The Coogs have played at the multi-named tournament hosted by the Astros 16 times. The tournament has had quite an odyssey:
- It was called the Astros College Classic in 2001 and 2002,
- Then it changed to the Minute Maid Park College Classic, which lasted 3 years,
- Back to the Houston College Classic for one season,
- And back to selling juice boxes at the Minute Maid Park College Classic for 5 years,
- And then they went retro, back to the Astros College Classic,
- Then the Astros Foundation College Classic happened once,
- But then back to the Houston College Classic for 2 years, and
- It’s been the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic since 2016.
So 16 tournaments hosted and 8 name changes.
The Coogs are just 20-28 in the event including 11 losses in our last 6 appearances. But today, I want to look back at the beginning of the tournament’s run as well as a special win in 2010. The early years of this tournament featured hundreds of MLB Draft Picks and state legends.
2001 – Astros College Classic at Enron Field
In the early years of the tournament, the Astros College Classic was held on the first weekend of the season. UH fans would gather the BUS across the street from the new Enron Field, taking it over for first 5-6 years of the tournament. For those that followed the team religiously, it was a rite of passage each season.
In our first-ever game at Enron, UH was blown out by Baylor (16-7) on opening day 2001. In the first inning, Baylor’s Kelly Shoppach crushed a three-run homer off of opening day starter Nick Torina and the Bears never looked back. Interestingly, the Baylor game was the first that UH baseball was broadcast on the “World Wide Web.”
We beat Texas on Saturday as Michael Bourn scored 2 runs and Bryan Harris won his first-ever start. True freshman Brad Sullivan got the save over the Longhorns – we’d see much more of Sully in the next few years.
The Coogs finished the weekend with a win over Tech in the early Sunday game, 11-5. True freshman Gene Flores started and got the win while another true freshman, Gabe Lucas, had 3 hits and 3 RBIs. Lucas is the son of UH Hall of Honor member Gabe Lucas. UH played a lot of freshmen that weekend that were getting their first taste of big-time college baseball.
Due in some part to those two wins at Minute Maid, the 29-28 Coogs were able to slip into the NCAA tournament as a 3-seed in 2001. Many UH fans believed that Cougar Baseball had finally arrived as a program.
2002 – Astros College Classic at Astros Field
In 2002, Chris Snyder hit a walk-off home run to beat Baylor in UH’s Friday game at the Classic. The Cougars put 7 future draft picks on the field that day, including a 1st rounder, two 2nd rounders, a 5th- and a 7th-rounder. In my opinion, the team on the field that day included the school’s best-ever catcher (Snyder), starting pitcher (Brad Sullivan), and closer (Jesse Crain). Crain’s 2002 efforts at SS and on the mound might have been the greatest season ever at UH.
Rayner Noble’s team lost Saturday night to Texas, 7-6. UH threw 6 pitchers in that game including the UH debut of true freshman Ryan Wagner. Wagner came in to start the 9th and struck out the side. He would go on to 15 saves the next season (school record) and be drafted in the 1st round. In the 9th inning, Wagner was opposed by Texas’ true freshman Huston Street, who would go on to become the greatest collegiate closer ever. Street got the save that night but with the perfect 9th, the legend of Ryan Wagner began.
The Coogs beat Texas A&M 2-1 on Sunday behind a combined three-hitter from 4 UH pitchers. UH had a winning record each of the first 2 seasons of the Classic. Who would have guessed that in the next 14 years, that would only happen 3 more times?
2003 – Minute Maid Park College Classic at Minute Maid Field
In 2003, Baylor led off the season by beating the Coogs by 10. We took care of Alabama on Saturday and lost a close game to Texas A&M to close out the weekend. It was the first of six-straight years at Minute Maid with just 1 win.
Expectations were high in 2003 but went mostly unfulfilled until a muggy Saturday in College Station. After eliminating Alabama in the morning, UH beat Oral Roberts to set-up a showdown with the Ags that turned into the greatest Sunday in program history. UH would beat the Aggies twice on their home field to advance to the Super Regional vs Rice.
Later Years At The Classic & The Win For Bert
2004 through 2009 were all lackluster at Minute Maid. A few games do stick out, though: a win over #9 Texas A&M (2005), a Friday win over #20 Baylor (2007), and Brad Lincoln’s 7 shutout innings in a win in the 2006 Sunday game. Lincoln would go on to win the Dick Howser Trophy as National Player of the Year.
In 2010, UH would sweep the Classic including a thrilling 1-0 win over #3 Texas on Saturday. For many of us, it was known as the Win for Bert. UH benefactor Bert F. Winston, Jr, loved UH baseball and loathed the Longhorns. He was told about the win and the next day, passed away at age 76. The new band hall at TDECU is named for him.
UH’s recent history at the tourney is dreadful: we’ve won only one of our last 8 games. In those 7 losses, UH has scored just 11 runs. This weekend will be a challenge facing three top-25 SEC teams, highlighted by a match-up with Kentucky’s 6’11” Sean Hjelle (2-0, 0.66 ERA) on Friday.
It’s time to turn it around in this event.