Much has changed since Jose Cruz Jr. donned a Rice baseball jersey, but if he has his way, more change is coming for the Blue and Gray.
For many fans, Rice baseball is synonymous with so many things. The College World Series. Wayne Graham. The regal Old English R scrawled across timeless uniforms devoid of frills. To some degree, a time capsule of what college baseball is meant to be. Nobody understands that better than Jose Cruz Jr., the former Rice player, parent and now the programs’ 22nd head coach.
That’s why it only seems fitting for it to be Cruz Jr. to usher in a new era of Rice baseball.
“We’re just starting something completely different that Rice baseball has never done or seen,” he said to a group of assembled media members on the first day of spring practice.
What’s different? Cruz Jr. elaborated. “We’re playing more of a modern style of baseball, I think. We’ve moved from the old-school version of Rice baseball to more of a modern game in the way we think and the way we communicate, in the way we develop talent.”
The Owls’ new headman has helped usher in the Pitching Lab, equipped with every gadget and gizmo imaginable to help pitchers hone their craft. Cruz Jr. detailed a process that started with results from that lab, continued to in-depth data and reports for the staff and trickled down to customized workouts with the training staff, tailored to each individual player to hone specific aspects of their game.
Quite simply, “I think it’s a career-changer for many of the guys here,” Cruz Jr. said.
But it’s not just pitching. Cruz Jr. talked further about how the new regime — which includes Jose Cruz Sr., officially named the special assistant to the head coach — intends to approach the game differently. The new data-driven approach stands out from the more “old-school” verbiage that surrounded the program when Cruz. Jr, himself, stood in the batter’s box.
“It’s how you communicate the game,” he expounded. “The game is a little different. There’s a little bit more shifting. There’s a little bit more data available to you. There’s a certain way to be as efficient as you can on the pitching side.” In short, Cruz Jr. and his team intend to utilize as much information as they can to make their players better.
Cruz Jr. knows wins and losses will ultimately be the measuring stick with which his time as the Owls’ skipper is remembered. Still, he was adamant that the program will evolve under his watch and look different than how it has before, in the best way possible.
With the season quickly approaching, Cruz Jr. will be tasked with turning those aspirations into tangible results. “I’m not going to promise the moon right now,” he said. “I will say we will be better than we were the last couple of years and just kind of build on that success and see how far we can go.”
That next step begins on Friday, Feb. 18 in Austin, Texas when Cruz Jr. and Rice baseball visit the Texas Longhorns to open their 2022 season. The Owls will play a three-game set in Austin and visit Lance Berkman and Houston Baptist the following Wednesday before their home opener, slated for 6:30 p.m. at Reckling Park against Lamar on Friday, Feb. 25.
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