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Foul Balls, Philosophy and Baseball Gods: Notes from the Houston College Classic

Six teams. Three days. Nine games. Seventy-one innings, give or take a couple here and there. So was The Astros Foundation 2013 College Classic. And after sitting through all nine games and three days, it's safe to say that this weekend was anything but a classic of college baseball.

Most of the games were runaways -- the ten-run rule was invoked in UH's destruction of Baylor on Saturday night. Only two games went down to the last at-bat. There was some bad pitching. And poor base running. There were physical and mental errors. There was a tight-fisted owner of the Astros running the tournament like it was a weekend of Little League games.

Mainly it was a weekend where the baseball gods chose not to shine down on the highly ranked Rice Owls and where it appeared that the unranked Cougars were poised to take a great leap forward before taking a slight step backward. And maybe, unfortunately, the weekend gave a bit of a glimpse into what might be in store for Astros fans attending games at Minute Maid Park this season.

5. RICE AND THE BASEBALL GODS

The Owls came into the weekend flying high, having swept a four-game series against Hawaii in Hawaii and with their best pitcher, Austin Kubitza, on the mound for Friday's game against top-ranked North Carolina. Kubitza did what he was supposed to do and shut down the North Carolina offense, but the Owls lost the game 2-1 when Rice's offense was unable, as it often was last season, to get a hit when it mattered (both of North Carolina's runs came on wild pitches).

"We just didn't get the hit when we needed it," Graham said Friday night. "It seems like every game we play, it's like this. You know, you get the hit when you need it, you win. If you don't, you don't win. It's just one of those things."

Rice still couldn't get key hits on Saturday night, and with the team down 6-0 to the Aggies after two innings due to some poor pitching and some defensive lapses, the Owls never stood much of a chance of a comeback. And Graham just attributed the team's eventual 8-3 loss to the baseball gods' not shining down on Rice, which they also refused to do on Sunday as the Owls lost 9-2 to Baylor.

The Rice offense was nonexistent for the entire weekend, which is why they were 0-3 for the weekend. And sometimes it doesn't matter how good the pitching is if the team can't score any runs. And the Owls at the moment just can't score any runs.

 

4. COUGARS AND THE TAO OF SO WHAT The Cougars came into the tournament with a 6-2 record, but with Friday's game against ranked Texas A&M being their first game against a truly good team. The Cougars quickly fell behind, but scored five runs in the fifth inning to take a lead on the Aggies they would not relinquish. Then they scored nine runs in the first two innings against Baylor on Saturday on the way to a 15-4 win that was stopped after seven innings due to the ten-run rule.

The relief pitching and patient batters paced the Friday win, and patient hitting and excellent pitching led to the Saturday win. The Cougars had none of that on Sunday as they lost 13-2 to Cal in eight innings. Head coach Todd Whiting was worried about the hangover of Friday night's big win going into Saturday's game. But it appeared the hangover didn't kick in until Sunday.

"What we try to do in our program is not worry about momentum and just keep playing," Whiting said Friday night. "'So what' is a huge saying in our program. You'll hear our dugout yell it all the time. Every time something goes bad, 'so what.' It's a long game. It's sometimes a cruel game, and it's never over with...We've won a lot of close games, and games that most teams would shut it down and quit, they don't quit. Maybe it's because they're so young and they're just dumb."

3. LONGER IS NOT BETTER The shortest game of the weekend was Sunday night's finale between Rice and Baylor. That's because Rice's offense was so anemic.

Long games can be fine, if the games are close, exciting and hopefully facing extra innings. But only two of the weekend's nine games were close, and even two of the three games that were stopped early because of the ten-run rule took over three hours to play. The pitching was generally poor and the base running was only so-so. Most of the excitement during these games came from watching ushers and security personnel terrorize the fans in the stands in their attempts to confiscate foul balls.

 

2. BEST GAME The ten-run rule was invoked in three of the games. That rule comes into play when one team is leading by ten runs or more after seven innings, and where it's been agreed to by the teams. So 1/3 of this weekend's games made use of the rule. And of the other six, only two were decided by one run and came down to the last at-bat. Those games were both played on Friday. And of those two games, a 7-6 UH win over Texas A&M and a 2-1 North Carolina win over Rice, the better was definitely the North Carolina/Rice game.

That game featured outstanding pitching from both teams. There were few walks and even fewer hits. North Carolina's runs came from runners scampering home on passed balls, and the winning run slid home just under the tag.

1. ANOTHER BLACK EYE FOR THE ASTROS Just when you think the Astros have run out of things to piss off fans, they come up with something new. During the games on Friday and Saturday, ushers and security were running around the stands and demanding that fans return all foul balls. To make matters worse, they blamed this on the college teams not bringing enough baseballs to the tournament so that the foul balls needed to be returned for further game action.

It was only on Sunday that the Astros acknowledged that they had only purchased 600 college baseballs for the classic, thus making it their fault and not the fault of the college teams. The Astros stated that this was the standard number of baseballs to purchase for such a tournament, but seeing as how 60-70 baseballs are used on average per game, that means Jim Crane's crew has a bit of a problem doing math as they would not have purchased enough baseballs if the higher end of that average was the number of balls used for each game.

But if anything, this incident confirmed that the Astros are, indeed, being run like a Little League baseball team.

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