HOUSTON – As Lance Berkman and Jose Cruz Jr. meet Wednesday for the first time as opposing head coaches, it’s a good time to look back at their careers when they were both starring at Rice University.
The two were even roommates for a year at Rice as their careers overlapped.
Berkman, who was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015, played for the Owls from 1995-1997. Over that time, he hit .385 and helped lead Rice to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 1995 as well as the school’s first appearance in the College World Series in 1997. In 1997, Berkman was named National Player of the Year after hitting .431 with 41 home runs and 134 RBI. Of course, after that, the Houston Astros drafted Berkman with their first-round pick and Berkman helped lead the Astros to a World Series appearance in 2005 before winning one with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011. Berkman finished his 15-year big-league career hitting .293 with 366 home runs and 1234 RBI. He was hired to be HBU’s baseball coach this past May.
Cruz Jr., the son of Houston Astros legend Jose Cruz, starred first locally at Bellaire High School. In 1992, he decided to sign to play baseball as a Rice Owl. In his first season, the outfielder was named National Freshman of the Year by Collegiate Baseball. He was part of the 1995 team with Berkman that helped lead Rice to their first NCAA Tournament appearance. In that season, his final one at Rice, Cruz hit .377 with 16 home runs and 76 RBI and a nation-leading 76 walks. That year, the Seattle Mariners drafted Cruz with the third overall selection in the MLB Draft. Cruz played 12 years in the big leagues and had two seasons where he hit at least 30 home runs. He was hired as Rice’s baseball coach a couple of weeks after Berkman was named HBU’s head coach.
And now, as their two teams begin to square off against each other, they are on the same field yet again - together.