I want to take a pause from my usual Houston Astros bashing so that I might applaud an event they stage every year.
It's time once again for the Houston College Classic, six college baseball teams invading Minute Maid Park for nine games in three days.
For only the second time in its history, the Classic is hosting six teams from Texas. Rice and Houston will once again be the host schools, with a bracket filled out by Texas, TCU, Texas Tech and Sam Houston State. Rice and Texas are annually among the best teams in college baseball. TCU is also ranked, and Texas Tech has received some votes. UH is on the rise, and Sam Houston State is one of the great unknown teams in baseball; tucked away just up the freeway in Huntsville, the team is quickly becoming a fixture in NCAA postseason play.
College baseball's not the most popular NCAA sport, and it's definitely not high on the list in Houston. But it is baseball, and the college classic offers some quality baseball at a great price. A month before the Astros come back from Florida to start up the season, odds are, the baseball played at the classic will be the best baseball played at Minute Maid in 2014.
Local baseball fans should want to see the college kids play because this is probably the best chance to see guys who will soon be the high draft choices of major league teams, especially a team like the Astros. But that's not the only reason to come out to the park. The tickets are cheap -- just $36 for a three-day pass for all nine games and $15 for one day. The weather's generally great so the stadium roof's open. And this will be your first chance to see Minute Maid Park since that eyesore of an erector-set billboard that was blocking the view in left field.
The first game of the weekend will feature Texas Tech against the Cougars. I've yet to see Texas Tech play, but UH swept Nicholls State at UH this past weekend behind three incredible pitching performances. The Cougars got off to a quick start last season before fading and missing out on the NCAA postseason, but the team has steadily improved each of the past several seasons. They're poised to join the UH football team in bringing the university some postseason action.
Rice, meanwhile, is managed by the legendary Wayne Graham, who, earlier this week, earned his 1,000th win as coach of the Owls. The Owls will play the late game Friday night facing off against the Longhorns in what should be the marquee game of the weekend. I'm also looking forward to Sam Houston State versus TCU on Friday and Sam Houston versus UT on Sunday morning.
The weekend won't be perfect. There are generally lots of scoreboard mistakes as new personnel are trained. Not all the concession stands are open. There's generally at least one game a day that ends up awful -- there were multiple 10-run rule games last year.
But there's generally one outstanding game a day featuring excellent pitching and superb defense. It's also a chance to see what new things the Astros will be doing with the video boards for the season, and there are generally some really good sales on team merchandise at the team store.
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Did I mention it's a great way to see some cheap baseball?
Truth be told, I'm not really used to writing complimentary stories. But this is one of the sporting events in Houston I most look forward to every year. I would love to see 30,000-plus people come out each day and watch kids eager to play in big-league stadiums who are not yet jaded by the game.
The 14th classic starts next weekend, at noon on February 28, and if you have never attended, I highly advise that you do so this year. I can't make you go to the game, but I know that come next Friday morning, I'll wake up like a kid on Christmas, rush up to Minute Maid Park, grab my press credential and sprint up to the press box eagerly awaiting the first pitch.
So, hopefully I'll see you at the ballpark. If not, it's your loss.