Updated: Feb 20
By Steve Parkhurst February 23, 2022
HOUSTON — Husky Field on the campus of Houston Baptist University played host to a memorable baseball game of sorts on Wednesday afternoon. Two former major league players were facing off in their first seasons as head coaches, and both were seeking their first victory as head coaches.
Houston Baptist head coach Lance Berkman and Rice head coach Jose Cruz Jr. were roommates on the road for the one season when they played at Rice at the same time under Wayne Graham.
Now, they are both leading young baseball squads with a common purpose: Develop young talent and return programs to previous high standards. The cross-town schools had not played on the Houston Baptist campus since 1970, before either of the head coaches was born.
On an afternoon where the temperature never rose above 50 degrees and as rain and drizzle traded places with patches of sun and windy conditions, the only constant was the chill in the air.
If there was one thing Houston Baptist needed, it was a pitcher — any pitcher, starter or reliever — to eat some innings after the Huskies used numerous pitchers in their opening weekend struggles against Rutgers. To add insult to injury, the Huskies were playing a second midweek game in as many days, and their fifth game in six days.
Chad Ricker answered the call for Berkman’s squad and carried his team through five innings, eventually finishing at 103 pitches on the day. Ricker departed with his team trailing 4–0, the victim of three errors behind him, including two in the opening frame that led to two unearned runs. Ricker retired the last eight batters he faced.
Parker Smith took the hill for Cruz Jr’s Owls, his first start of the season and his second appearance of the young season, and he was dominant over six innings. Smith was hitless through three innings before a two-out infield single in the fourth accounted for the Huskies first base hit. Smith left the game after six innings leading 4–0, having thrown 56 pitches in his start.
Once Rice went to the bullpen, a two-out error was immediately followed by a triple into the right field corner by Huskies catcher Tyler LaRue to get Houston Baptist on the board, they trailed 6–1. The Huskies put together another run-scoring inning in the eighth, but they could get no closer than the 6–2 final score as Rice closed out the win by retiring the side in the bottom of the ninth.
The two teams combined for seven errors in the Wednesday afternoon affair where Rice picked up its first victory of the Cruz Jr. coaching era while Berkman still searches for the elusive first win of his own.
A beaming Cruz Jr. held the game ball from the final out of his first win in his hand after the game, he said the ball would be going in his office at Rice’s Reckling Park. “I got one, I didn’t think I was going to be here a year ago,” Cruz Jr. said. “First of many.”
Steve Parkhurst is a baseball writer based in Houston, Texas