HOUSTON -- Rice head baseball coach Wayne Graham welcomed back 23 returning lettermen from last season's team that earned the program's 16th-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, and dozen newcomers to the roster, as the Owls held their first fall practice of 2010 on Monday afternoon (Oct. 4) at Reckling Park.
The Owls return five offensive starters and 15 veteran pitchers who helped lead the team to a 40-23 record and to the 2010 Conference USA regular season championship. Eleven of the team's 12 newcomers are from the high school ranks while one is transfer from another university. Junior third baseman Anthony Rendon, the 2010 Howser Trophy winner as the national college player of the year, was present at Reckling Park but sitting out fall ball while continuing is rehab work for an ankle injury he suffered over the summer.
After a brief period of conditioning and drills, Graham divided the team for a Blue-Gray intraquad scrimmage. He was pleased with the team's physical condition for the first day of practice and stated that playing time in the spring (2011) could be a direct correlation to a player's performance in the fall. Three positions in the field, where Owls were drafted and signed by the major leagues, has his immediate attention. Even the head coach, who is at the helm for his 20th Owl team this season, could not have scripted better conditions for fall practice.
"It's wonderful weather and (the players) needed a little competition," coach Graham said. "They need it, and we need it so we can start evaluating and coach a little harder. You coach better when you can see what's happening under game conditions. We like the newcomers to get a grasp of the way we play. We want to see some of the pitchers incorporate some of the things we've been teaching them (in recent individual drills). We want to see them throw strikes and getting the breaking ball over the plate.
"Shortstop, first base and right field are primary spots for us in the fall," Graham added. "We have a lot of guys who could break-through. We'll give the freshmen chances. They've looked very good so far. There's plenty of talent here, we have potential."
Rice's fall baseball practices continue through the end of the month. Last spring the Blue & Gray advanced to an NCAA Regional for a 16th-straight year. The Owls open the 2011 season with a three-game home series at Reckling Park against national power Stanford on Feb. 18-20.
In other Rice baseball news coach Graham announced that game times for the annual Houston College Classic at Minute Maid Park have beet set, and that there has been a change to the start time of a C-USA league game. Rice's games in the College Classic (Mar. 11-13) will be vs. Kentucky at 7 pm on Friday, followed by Texas A&M at 7 pm on Saturday and then Baylor at 2:30 pm on Sunday. Rice's C-USA game at East Carolina on April 8 (Friday) has been moved up one hour to 6 pm Eastern Time (5 pm Central).