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Club baseball aims toward trip to Nationals

By Ian Chiang     4/17/13 7:00pm

Rice University's baseball team is currently ranked No. 23 in the nation. However, another baseball team exists on campus that many students may be unfamiliar with despite its similarly impressive track record. Formed in 2004, the Rice club baseball team has now played in more than 100 games, but the team had a rocky start.

Between 2005 and 2009, the squad played in the National Club Baseball Association Division II and amassed a record of 24-62. From there, the team found a new home in District VII, where it began to show signs of improvement. This year, the club team is having one of its best seasons yet with a 16-4 record including, a 13-game winning streak and is focusing on the regional and national rounds of competition.

The club baseball president Alex Kendall, a senior, said he thought his baseball career was over after high school and that he is glad he found a home on the club team.

"I played baseball in high school and had given away all my pants and gear thinking that I was done playing," Kendall said. "The president at the time, Chris Brown, really pushed me to play my freshman year."

Kendall said some of his favorite memories include the times the team spends together off the field, specifically when it travels.

"One thing that's really unique about our team is how much we make fun of each other," Kendall said. "We always know that we will be heckling our own guys more than any team will ever heckle us. It really helps us stay loose and have fun."

Senior Christopher Walker, who also became involved with the organization early during his freshman year at Rice, was one of the pitchers who helped lead the Owls to an overall ranking of No. 5 in the NCBA polls during the 2010 season.

Walker said one of his favorite moments came when he sent the team to the national finals his freshman year.

"My favorite moment so far was from my freshman year when I pitched a complete game shutout to send us to the national tournament in Johnstown, Penn.," Walker said. "We played Texas A&M Corps of Cadets and needed to win the last game to make nationals. Once there, my second-favorite moment occurred when the team presented me with an MVP trophy [and said] 'We wouldn't have made it here without you.'"

Walker said that, while being on a club team may not require the same time commitment as a varsity team, it still requires a certain amount of dedication.

"We have two-a-days twice a week for about an hour for each practice that includes defensive drills in the afternoon and batting practice at the cages at [Reckling Park] at night," Walker said.

Club baseball vice president and treasurer Oscar Turner, a sophomore, said club baseball requires just the right amount of time for players to excel on and off the field.

"Club baseball is run in a way that makes it easy to balance the team with work, " Turner said. "If you need to miss practice for another obligation, everyone understands because they have been in the same position before." 

As the end of the season nears, theta team has been experiencing more ups than downs.  Turner said he believes several factors have played into the success of the team this season, including improvement of its offense.

"We had a lot of returning players from last year," Turner said.  "Last year, our pitching and defense were very strong, but our hitting was much less than stellar.  This year, we gained another great pitcher with the addition of freshman Zach Satira, and we have even more talent and speed in the field. We've also gained multiple strong bats and are hitting significantly better than last year."

According to Walker, playing for the same school as a Division I baseball team has led to little recognition for the the club baseball team, especially since the organization plays its games off campus.

"Several people at Will Rice [College] know that we're enjoying a lot of success because [Kendall] and I let people know that we're playing and how it goes," Walker said. "Other than that, I think we're seen as a pretty low-key club."

Kendall said he has also felt the team's relative anonymity.

"That doesn't bother me at all, really, but it's pretty cool to get some attention like this every now and then," Kendall said.

Walker said the team looks ready to improve from last season on the journey toward the national championship. He said he is excited about the opportunity to compete at the highest level.

"I feel very good about our chances this year to make a run at a national championship," Walker said. "We're very balanced, and if there was a year to do it while I've been here, then this would definitely be it."

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