Monday, February 18, 2013

Stanford Cardinal 0 at Rice Owls 3 (NCAA Baseball) - February 17, 2013


When I first planned this trip, the NBA All-Star Game was the centerpiece. As time passed and I realized that neither media credentials or tickets would be easy to acquire, I began to look at other options. After adding Texas baseball in Austin on Saturday, I thought I would visit Texas A&M for another ballgame today. Then the University of New Orleans Privateers changed their Monday basketball game to a secondary venue so I decided to forgo my trip to the Big Easy and stay in Texas. So it was time to scour the schedules again.

Since I grew up in Canada, the locations of NCAA schools with non-geographic names were a mystery to me until recently. For example, I never had any idea that Rice was in Houston until I saw them on the road in football in 2011. So Rice baseball was the first schedule I checked and when I saw that they would be hosting Stanford in the highlight series of the opening weekend, I added that game to the slate, pushing Texas A&M over to Tuesday. The 1:00 start meant an early departure from Austin, from where I drove three hours down to the Rice campus where Reckling Park lies.

Reckling Park



Built in 2000 to replace Cameron Field, Reckling Park is another beautiful college ballyard. Located just off University Boulevard at Stockton, the stadium is near a couple of visitor parking lots, but I chose to leave the car in a residential neighborhood just a short walk away and thus avoid any charges.



Tickets range from $18 for the gold seats down to $10 for general admission which gets you the berm or a small set of bleachers. The roof here is quite small and only covers the last two rows in the sections behind home plate, so keep that in mind if you want to avoid a nasty sunburn. Seats there are $14 and are called Concourse 2.



Behind the left field fence lies the Texas Medical Center, a collection of hospitals and other facilities that helps keep Houston as a top medical tourism destination.



Down the left field line is The Roost, a small covered picnic area with food and beverages, including beer. I am not sure why some college ballparks sell beer and others don't but even then, few people were imbibing. I asked for a Frito Pie, but they had yet to stock them, so I went hungry as the other options were pretty typical.



The design of the ballpark is quite unique, with a main entry arch through which you come up a flight of stairs to the seating bowl. Just inside the main entrance are a few plaques that are carved out of what appears to be concrete. Each plaque commemorates a different aspect of Rice baseball, such as their College World Series appearances, their first round draft picks (Blue Jays drafted Matt Williams in 1981 - no, not that Matt Williams!) and All-Americans. You can see a couple of those plaques in the center of the picture below. A recent addition is a plaque to commemorate Philip Humber's perfect game.



There's not much else there, but why should there be? Reckling Park is yet another wonderful surprise, helped by a perfect Sunday afternoon with a clear blue sky and temperatures approaching 20C. This weekend in Houston may have seen the NBA All-Star Hype, but real sports fans knew the best place to be was on the Rice campus to watch two of the best college baseball teams do battle.

The Game

Stanford was ranked seventh, which Rice came in at #18 in the coaches poll. The teams had split their first two games, so this was the rubber match. John Simms, a junior, started for Rice against Logan James, a freshman making his first college start.

The game started poorly for the home team when Stanford leadoff batter Brett Michael Doran reached on an error. This was followed by Justin Ringo taking first on catcher's interference, also an error. After Danny Diekroger muffed a sacrifice, forcing Doran at 3rd, Brian Ragira grounded into a double play and the rally was snuffed.



In the bottom half, freshman Leon Byrd (drafted out of high school in the 25th round by the Mets but smartly avoiding that organization) walked to lead off. Christian Stringer singled and Michael Ratterree was hit by a pitch (above) to load the bases. After Michael Aquino grounded out to score a run, Shane Hoelscher (below) rapped a 2-run single through the middle to give Rice a 3-0 lead.



After that James settled down, retiring 11 of the final 12 batters he faced, yielding just another single to Hoelscher, who went 4/4 on the day. However, Simms was even better, keeping Stanford hitless through seven despite walking four and hitting a batter.


Danny Diekroger out at first

In the top of the 8th, Austin Barr led off with a double to end the no-hit bid, and Simms was soon replaced by Zech Lemond who struck out 2 in 1.2 innings to preserve the shutout as Rice won 3-0. The game was even faster than the one I saw on Saturday, lasting a mere 2:19. I'm not sure if there has been a rule change, but the previous college games I saw were usually three hours or longer. It was too bad this one had to be so quick, it was such a great day to be outside watching baseball.



Notes

A new NCAA baseball stadium has quickly become my favourite destination. I love minor league baseball as well, but the college game is purer, without the distracting on-field promotions that are a necessity in the minors. The change in bats before the 2011 season has reduced scoring and made the games quicker and more interesting. If you have never seen an NCAA ballgame, check out the schedule and plan to see one in 2013.

Next Up

I'm spending the day in Houston catching up on my Stadium Journey reviews. Tonight I will visit Texas Southern basketball before heading up to College Station tomorrow to see Aggies baseball. I'll return to Houston on Wednesday for the Rockets before returning to the Dallas area to finish up the trip. Check back for updates each and every day!

Best,

Sean
 

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