After years of building, Rice baseball head coach Jose Cruz Jr and his team believes this is the year to take that next step forward.
It’s been a slow grind for Rice baseball and head coach Jose Cruz Jr. since he took the helm of the program before the 2022 season. When he arrived he was quick to moderate expectations. “I’m not going to promise the moon right now,” he said before entering debut season. That was two years ago. Since Cruz and his staff have worked tirelessly to revamp a roster that was in need of talent at several key spots
Cruz had done his best to balance high school signees with Transfer Portal additions, endeavoring to build a roster with the right mix of ability and understanding. Culture, often as nebulous of a word in sports as any other, has been a work in progress and he would be one of the first to admit it. Slowly but surely, those labors appear to be bearing their first fruits.
“I’ve been saying it the whole year. It’s taken me three falls to create the environment that I wanted to create. It’s fertile ground for development and for guys to keep pushing themselves and get better,” Cruz said. “It’s here, the time is now. Our team is pretty dynamic. Now we just have to show it on the field.”
Rice has retained Parker Smith, whom Cruz accurately referred to as a “bonafide ace”. They’ve added key transfers like Treyton Rank from Florida State and Kye McDonald from Wichita State. There’s been buzz all offseason about the velocity of the arms Rice will be able to bring out of the bullpen. Optimism abounds. Hope is in the air. This is a team with potential. Cruz believes they have the drive to go with it.
“The beauty of what we have right now with our team is there’s a lot of guys that have a lot of whys. They have a purpose. They have a mission of why they are here,” Cruz explained. “Some people are trying to get themselves into a position to get in the lineup. Some people are trying to go professional. Some people want to develop.”
Organizing all of those whys into one collective mission has been the challenge for this program in recent years. It all comes back to culture, something veteran leaders have agreed is much improved. “Compared to teams in the past, we definitely have a better locker room culture and just culture overall,” Smith said. “It’s a game failure. Baseball is a game of failure. You’re bound to fail and you’re going to have to rely on your teammates to back you up and pick you up.”
The odds suggest Smith is right. Rice baseball will get knocked down more than a few times this year. They’ll suffer some painful losses and things won’t always go according to plan. How they deal with those hardships will determine how far they’ll eventually be able to go.
That “potential” piece isn’t new. Rice baseball has had potential for eons. How else could they have assembled a National Championship team in the modern era? That team took ahold of its potential and translated into production. That’s the task for Cruz and for his players. National championship ceiling or not, this is a team that, on paper, looks better than it ever has under his direction. That potential needs to translate into wins.
The Owls’ first crack comes in a few days against Notre Dame. Opening Day at Reckling Park against a national, premier brand. You can’t have much more of a bigger potential opportunity than that.
** Photo Credit: Maria Lysaker **
Subscribe on Patreon for exclusive Rice football recruiting updates, practice notes and more.