HOUSTON, TX - The fifth annual Houston Winter Invitational will commence baseball season at Minute Maid Park with the six-team tournament held at the stadium this weekend. The tournament will feature six NCAA Division II universities, squaring off in nine games across the three days. This weekend will mark the first baseball games played at the stadium since the Minute Maid Park center field renovation began this offseason.
Three teams hail from Texas, in St. Mary's University (San Antonio), Tarleton State (Stephenville) and Texas A&M University-Kingsville. The Houston Winter Invitational also features the University of Central Missouri, which co-hosts the tournament with the Astros, the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith and Chico State (Cal). All tournament participants enter the weekend with a winning record, while Central Missouri checks in with the highest ranking at No. 3 in the nation.
Central Missouri, which has co-hosted the tournament since its inception, is the alma-mater of Astros Owner and Chairman Jim Crane, who was a standout baseball player in his college career. He played for the Mules from 1973-76, posting a 21-8 record with a career 2.42 ERA. Crane still ranks atop the Central Missouri career leaderboards in complete games (23) and shutouts (7) and ranks third in strikeouts (215). He still holds the Mules single-game strikeout record of 18, which is also a DII College World Series record. Crane was inducted into the University of Central Missouri Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997, and earned an induction into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in January of this year.
Crane contributes to Central Missouri annually to provide athletic scholarships for Mules baseball. Additionally, Crane was the primary underwriter of a $1.2 million renovation in 1998 of the old Mules Field on the University of Central Missouri campus, which has since been renamed the James R. Crane Stadium. Last year, Crane and the UCM Foundation upgraded the university's baseball facility with a new synthetic turf playing surface in a continuing effort to make the Central Missouri baseball program one of the best in the country.
For more information on the tournament or to purchase tickets, please visit Astros.com/Invitational.