Baseball America College Podcast: Rice’s Rise To The 2003 National Title

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On this episode of the Baseball America College Podcast, Teddy Cahill is joined by John Manuel, former Baseball America editor and college beat writer, to discuss the rise of Rice as a national power at the turn of the century, culminating in the Owls’ 2003 national championship.

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Rice today is thought of as a traditional baseball power, but when Wayne Graham took over the program in 1992, the Owls had never made an NCAA Tournament appearance. He led Rice to its first appearance in regionals in 1995 and to the College World Series in 1997. The Owls returned to Omaha in 1999 and 2002, before defeating Stanford in the 2003 CWS finals to win the national title.

Along the way, Rice developed premier players such as Lance Berkman, Jose Cruz Jr., David Aardsma and the highly touted rotation of Philip Humber, Jeff Niemann and Wade Townsend that headlined the national championship team.

It was a heady rise for a program and university that had little prior success. The national championship stands alone as Rice’s only national championship in any sport and the school is the fifth-smallest competing in Division I’s Football Bowl Subdivision, the top level of college sports.

Graham, whose tenure at Rice ended after the 2018 season, is a fascinating baseball character himself. He won more than 1,100 games as a head coach between San Jacinto (Texas) JC and Rice and played in the big leagues for Gene Mauch and Casey Stengel. His influence on Rice and college baseball as a whole was substantial.

Among the topics covered on the episode:

  • What allowed Graham to be successful at Rice
  • Rice’s pitching development
  • The great Rice players of the era
  • The 2003 College World Series
  • What Graham’s legacy is at Rice

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