HOUSTON - The Rice baseball team, ranked as high as No. 13 in the country in one national preseason poll, held its first practice of 2015 at Reckling Park on Friday (Jan. 23). Rice head coach Wayne Graham welcomed back 17 returning lettermen from last season's squad that went 42-20, swept the Conference USA regular season and tournament titles, and hosted a home Regional in the NCAA Tournament.
On the first day of practice Coach Graham, who is now in his 24th season at the helm of the baseball program, used a break in the recent weather to forgo utilizing Reckling Park's indoor cages in order to hit outside. His 2015 squad returns five of the nine starters in the batting order and a host of veteran pitchers from a year ago. The Owls have a highly-touted group of incoming freshmen players making their Division I debut this spring.
Rice's talented team is no secret in college baseball circles. The Owls are ranked 13th in the country by D1Baseball.com. The squad opens the upcoming season at home against longtime rival Texas with a four-game weekend series at Reckling Park on Feb. 13-15. Season ticket packages to catch all 30 home games are available for as low as $130. Mini-plans, which allow fans to hand-pick their favorite games to attend, are also available for purchase starting as low as $35. More information and about season tickets and mini plans are available at the above link or by calling 713-348-OWLS (6957).
The team has a short time to prepare for a challenging 2015 schedule. There are some starting positions that have coach Graham's full attention, but every spot is open for evaluation. The start of practice is a favorite day for the head coach and players alike. Coach Graham was correct that being able to hit outside helped give Day 1 a little extra lift.
"If there was any chance to hit outside that is our first choice," Coach Graham said. "We don't have to be outside long, and if anyone wanted extra hitting they can go to the cages later. Everyone worked hard through our fall program and the off-season. Everyone is ready to go. Everyone wants to play.
"We'll look closely at finalizing a starting spot in left field," the head coach explained. "We have a lot of experienced guys back at a lot of positions, and a lot of depth, so we could move people around. To me, any (defensive) starting spot is still technically open, and of course every pitcher has a chance to break through. When players compete for a spot that makes everybody better.
"The enthusiasm was really high today, everyone was anxious to get started," Graham observed. "I wanted the outfielders to get some pop-ups while the wind was blowing out. It's funny how the hitters don't complain about the cold when the wind's blowing out."