Just ask Astros players Lance Pendleton, Chris Snyder, Brett Wallace and Chris Wallace. Each played in the Houston College Classic while in school and still cherish those memories today. Pendleton played for Rice University, Snyder and Chris Wallace for the University of Houston and Brett Wallace for Arizona State.
"It was unbelievable," said Brett Wallace, who appeared in the tournament in 2007. "The opportunity to play in a big league park at that age was something I'll never forget and something I always wanted to do. I wanted to be a big leaguer, and to get a chance to walk on that field and see what these guys went through all the time, it pushes you that much harder."
The tournament returns to Minute Maid Park for a 12th year this weekend and features hometown teams Rice and Houston, along with Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas Tech and Texas.
"It's got such great tradition," Houston coach Todd Whitting said. "There's not a tournament in the country that's more prestigious or has a better environment for the kids to be in than that one. The opportunity to play in a big league park, on a great stage and against great competition year in and year out, we're fortunate to play in it."
On Friday, Texas Tech plays Arkansas (noon CT), Tennessee plays Houston (3:30 p.m.) and Texas plays Rice (7 p.m.) in a battle of former national champions. On Saturday, former Southwest Conference rivals Arkansas and Houston (noon) kick off the action, followed by Texas and Tennessee (3:30 p.m.) and Texas Tech playing Rice (7 p.m.).
The tournament concludes Sunday with Arkansas playing Texas (11 a.m.), Houston battling Texas Tech (2:30 p.m.) and Rice meeting Tennessee (6 p.m.).
Pendleton, who was a member of Rice University's 2003 national championship team, played in numerous big games throughout his college career, but few things could top the opportunity to play in Minute Maid Park three years in a row. He was named to the all-tournament team in two consecutive years, both times as an outfielder.
"It was the first tournament of the year and it was a lot of fun," he said. "At that point in your life, to get to play on a big league field, it gave you goose bumps more than just in a normal game. You always hoped you would play there again. I'm a realist and knew it was probably never going to happen, but it was very special."
Snyder provided one of the great moments in College Classic history when he hit a walk-off home run to give the Cougars a 3-2 win over Baylor in 2002.
"That was probably still to this point one of the better experiences I've ever had in any level of baseball," said Snyder, who signed with the Astros this year. "You have to imagine, for a college kid, getting to play in a big league ballpark in that kind of atmosphere is always going to be an incredible experience."
In addition to the games this weekend, The Charlie Lucas Band will be playing from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on the main concourse on Friday. The band's performance is part of the Bud Light Happy Hour, which will feature $5 beer specials. Admission is free with the purchase of a Houston College Classic ticket.
Friday night's festivities also include a national anthem performance by "American Idol" contestant and Houston native Ramiro Garcia. Vince Young, one of the University of Texas' all-time greats and a quarterback in the NFL, will throw out the first pitch before Friday's 7:05 p.m. game.
Select tickets for the Houston College Classic are still available and can be purchased online at astros.com/collegeclassic or by calling Ticketmaster at 1-877-9ASTROS. Tickets may also be purchased at all of the Astros' regular Houston-area Ticketmaster outlets.
There are $13 daily admission tickets as well as $30 three-day tournament passes available. Children's tickets (ages 4-14) are $6 daily and $15 for the tournament. Season ticket holders (27-game packages and up) are offered a half-price discount for tournament ($15 per package) and daily admission tickets ($6.50 per day). Luxury Suites can be purchased for the entire tournament or on a daily basis by calling 713-259-8350. The Minute Maid Park box office will sell reserved seating in the Diamond Club for $30 per game (subject to availability).
The College Classic Coca-Cola Student Value Package is also available for purchase online. This special ticket option, available to high school and college students and kids from ages 4-14, includes a day pass, a voucher for one 16-ounce Coca-Cola product and a regular hot dog for only $10.
Parking for the tournament will be available in the Astros' controlled parking lots B and C for $5 each day.