Almost every Arkansas sports fan knows the name Kevin Kopps. They show up to Baum-Walker Stadium with homemade signs that read, ‘Call the Kopps’ when he enters games from the bullpen.
It’s a play-on words that the Razorback faithful have loved all season and one Kevin himself has embraced. What makes it even better? Kopps has a special tie to an actual cop in the Fayetteville Police Department, his roommate, officer Sean O’Neill.
It’s a coincidental friendship.
“Kopps living with a cop is kind of funny,” joked O’Neill. “Especially with his walk out the past four years being Bad Boys.”
But it’s not the most unlikely friendship. O’Neill is a former bullpen catcher for Arkansas who first met Kevin when both were on the team in 2018. And he has seen first hand how Kopps has turned himself into the nation’s best pitcher.
“He probably won’t like me saying this… But he has a gym membership on top of doing the baseball workouts that we have. There will be a practice and then weights after. Kevin will come home, eat and then go to the gym for a few hours,” said O’Neill. “I don’t think a lot of people know that about him. I don’t know a lot of people in college sports that have a separate gym membership other than their workouts that they have with the team.”
That hard work has translated into a ton of awards for Kopps, including being named a finalist for the 2021 Dick Howser Award, given to the nation’s best player in college baseball. But through it all, Kopps remains humble.
“I came home after he won the SEC Pitcher of the Year and I was like, ‘Hey, congrats, man.’ And he was like, ‘For what?’ I was like, ‘Go look at Twitter,’ O’Neill said. “It’s so cool for him, but also he’s just so good at not making it (about himself). It’s about Arkansas winning a first national championship, not about Kevin winning the Golden Spikes.”
This season is a far cry away from where Kopps was in the 2020 season. He had a 8.18 ERA, 18 hits in 11 innings pitched to go along with nine strikeouts. This year, Kopps has a perfect 12-0 record, a 0.68 era and 120 strikeouts.
“(Kevin and I) were talking about it the other day that when things in life aren’t going the way you want them to, it’s because they’re happening in better ways that you can’t even imagine,” O’Neill said.
Kopps is checking off awards left and right, but one goal still remains on the list: the College World Series.
“For him i think it’s going to be a lot of unfinished business,” O’Neill said. “Personally for me, it’s going to be, ‘how many days can I get off work, to go to Omaha.”
Before Arkansas can make it to the CWS, they need to get past North Carolina State in the NCAA Super Regional starting Friday.