First of all, let me preface all of this to say that the guy that holds the giant potato sign in the Hog Pen beyond the outfield at Baum-Walker Stadium during Razorback baseball games is my brother.
Not my “brother-from-another-mother,” or “brother in Razorback Fandom,” or anything like that. He’s my actual brother. Dallas Bartholomew, Prairie Grove Tigers class of ’02, commercial real estate appraiser, uncle-extraordinaire, and one of the funniest people I’ve ever known.
That makes me about as qualified to tell his story as anyone, I guess.
For the past several years, since about 2018, as often as he can, my brother has been carrying a roughly 4-by-3-foot potato sign with him to the Razorback baseball games, and dutifully displaying it at nearly every opportunity during the games.
You can see it held high when the Hogs have runners in scoring position and need a big hit, or when one of their pitchers has a two strike count on the opposing team’s slugger. You’ll also see it joyfully bouncing around in the packed Hog pen when one of the Razorbacks gets a run-scoring hit, a double play, a Hog hitter slaps one over the wall for a homer, or walks one off for a big victory.
And while the potato sign doesn’t have nearly the tradition of things like the Hog Call, Larry Shank’s ‘This is Baseball’ chant from the press box, bases loaded beer hats, or Hognoxious and his buddies hollering at the umps from the third base line, spotting the Tater Guy in the Hog Pen after a big play is becoming just another thing that is fun about the spring and early summer at Baum.
So, why the potato, you might be asking? Is it about home runs, often referred to as “taters?” Is it a call back to a certain viral video referencing mashed potatoes and what an overly-excited Hog fan plans to do to them after a Razorback win? (Google it. Actually, don’t.)
It’s neither of those things.
Instead, it’s kind of a long story that is a bit hard to understand. You kind of had to be there. Beers may have been involved.
As my brother tells it, when former Razorback (and Fayetteville High School Alum) Carson Shaddy was a freshmen in 2015, Dallas and his buddies in the Hog Pen took a liking to him as a player.
“Shaddy. That sounds Irish,” Dallas decided one day, and shouted in his best Irish accent when he would come to bat, “Hey Shaddy. Eat your taters!”
The first time that happened, on the very next pitch, Shaddy got a hit.
Soon, it became a thing that happened every game, so much so that a few years later, Dallas’ friend that worked at a local print shop gifted him a giant potato sign to go along with his Shaddy chant.
“That’s how it started,” he said. “It was just a dumb joke that kind of grew from there.”
The original sign depicted a large pile of potatoes on a wood background, a stock-photo no doubt, printed in a giant square.
Shaddy became aware of the tradition in his senior year, and eventually signed the original version of the potato sign.
“I was out there with the sign, and a girl sitting in front of me was kind of looking at me every time I yelled at him,” he said. “Anyway, that girl was his then fiance (now wife), and after I told her the story, she took the sign and got Carson to sign it for us.”
Shaddy’s signature led to that original sign being retired to hang in Dallas’ bedroom. The latest version of the sign is more than four-feet-wide, a single spud, die cut into a potato shape. There’s even a smaller, companion version sometimes carried by Dallas’ friend, Kristin.
“She has kind of been my partner in crime with the tater thing since the beginning, but she said my sign is too heavy, so I made her a smaller version,” Dallas said.
Since Shaddy graduated, and he didn’t have anyone to shout to, the sign has just been waved kind of randomly during the games. This year, though, he’s started holding up the sign for Razorback second baseman Robert Moore.
“I felt like I need to yell at someone to eat their taters, you know?” he said. “I decided, you know, Shaddy played second base, now we have Robert, so he can be the guy.”
The sign has been referenced on several television broadcasts throughout the year, Dallas said, and he delights in the messages he gets every game when the sign is shown or mentioned on TV. The signs were discussed at length on TV in the bottom of the third inning of the Arkansas/Ole Miss game on May 1 by announcers Kyle Peterson and Tom Hart, who actually knew the story behind the taters pretty well.
“I get messages from friends, family, and people I haven’t spoken to in years about it,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll go back to the broadcast and see if I can find the references.”
More than anything, the potato has become a great conversation piece, and a great way to make friends in the Hog Pen. Every game, fans come up and ask him about the sign, and he’ll tell the story to anyone who agrees to take a photo for his Instagram (@tater_guy).
“People come up to me wanting to know the story, and I make them take a photo for the Instagram,” he said. “Some don’t even want to know the story. They just want a pic with the taters.”
Mostly, though, the signs are about fun, as those who know the atmosphere in the Hog Pen during a Diamond Hog game, know that fits right in in the grassy area just beyond the outfield.
“I kind of think of it as something for us out in the Hog Pen,” he said. “The RBI Girls don’t dance out there. They throw a few t-shirts our way this year, but in the past, we didn’t get much t-shirt love out in the Hog Pen. It’s just something fun for people to do while they’re out there.”
Oh, and about how all this started. Is Shaddy even an Irish name? The whole thing seems like a bit of a stretch.
“He follows me on Instagram now, and he did confirm that the family name is Irish,” Dallas said. “He has been a really good sport about my jackassery.”
Photo: Lance Staggs