Where Are They Now? Rice University Trio

Image credit: Righthanders Jeff Niemann (facing camera) and Philip Humber (No. 21) embrace after Rice defeated Stanford to claim the 2003 College World Series title.

The trio comprised the greatest starting pitching staff in the history of college baseball, one that led Rice to the 2003 College World Series title. Then the righthanders were selected third, fourth and eighth overall in the 2004 draft.

Philip Humber later pitched a perfect game for the White Sox, Jeff Niemann’s budding big league career was cut short after five seasons with a shoulder injury, and Wade Townsend became a professional poker player after his baseball career stalled at Double-A.

Despite their successes in pro baseball, and the multi-million dollar signing bonuses they all signed, none of the three Texans could ever again match what happened at Rice for two magical seasons.

“I don’t know how it happened, or how we made it happen, or how we were coached into making it happen,” Niemann said recently. “I still have no answer for you on that side . . . Things just happened right.”

The trio combined to go 39-5 with a 2.38 ERA for the CWS champion Owls in 2003. A year later, Rice fell short of the College World Series even though the trio combined for a 31-7 record with a 2.28 ERA.

Following the latter season, the Mets selected Humber with the third pick in the draft and signed him to a big league contract that included a $3 million bonus. The Rays selected Niemann with the next pick and signed him to a big league deal with a $3.2 million bonus. Picking eighth, the Orioles selected Townsend, who turned down their $1.85 million offer.

Under the rules of the day, Townsend was ineligible to play for Rice as a senior because he had signed with an agent. So he earned a degree and re-entered the 2005 draft, where Tampa Bay selected him No. 8 overall, again. This time, Townsend signed for $1.5 million.

Humber’s pro career got off to a rocky start when he had Tommy John surgery in 2005, and in seven major league seasons he recorded a 5.31 ERA in 371 innings. He threw perhaps the most unlikely of the 23 perfect games in major league history. His perfecto against the Mariners on April 21, 2012, was the lone complete game of his career.

“To me, it’s one day and a great day, obviously, but it doesn’t really tell the story of me or my career,” said Humber, now the vice president of business operations for CapRock Construction Co. in College Station, Texas.

Niemann, who ranked fourth an AL rookie of the year balloting in 2009, recorded a 4.08 ERA in 544 big league innings. He blew out his shoulder in 2013. He now lives in the Houston area and wants to return to school as a student assistant coach.

Townsend reached Double-A with Tampa Bay when an arm injury derailed his career, and he eventually joined the World Poker Tour.

“People look at me and think that I am a meathead, but the eyes give you away,” Townsend told the American Sports Network in 2015. “Once they figure out I’m better than I look, it’s too late . . . Just like in baseball, it’s a mind game.”

BA was unable to contact Townsend, who lives in Austin.

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