Astros set to host Houston Winter Invitational

Fans in the Houston area who are looking for a baseball fix before Spring Training opens can attend the Houston Winter Invitational hosted by the Astros. 

The six-team NCAA Division II tournament, which begins on Thursday at Minute Maid Park, will feature 12 games over four days from Thursday through Sunday.

Two Texas teams are in the tournament -- St. Mary's University located in San Antonio and Tarleton State, which is located in Stephenville.

The other teams involved include the University of Central Missouri, Arkansas Tech, Henderson State (Ark.) and Winona State (Minn.).

Central Missouri, which has co-hosted the tournament with the Astros the past three years, is the alma mater of Houston owner and chairman Jim Crane, who was a standout baseball player during his collegiate career and is in the school's athletic Hall of Fame.

Crane pitched for the Mules from 1973-76, compiling a 21-8 record with a 2.42 ERA. He still ranks atop the school's learderboards in complete games (23) and shutouts (seven), while ranking third in strikeouts (215).

Speaking of strikeouts, Crane still holds the Mules' single-game strikeout record of 18, which is also a DII College World Series record.

The invitational begins at 10 a.m. CT on Thursday, with Tarleton State taking on Winona State, and it concludes Sunday evening with a 6 p.m. game between Tarleton State and Arkansas Tech. Game times are subject to change depending on how long the games before them last.

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.