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The Student News Site of University of Central Missouri

Muleskinner

The Student News Site of University of Central Missouri

Muleskinner

Mules To Houston

Mules travel to play in a Major League Stadium
The+UCM+Mules+Baseball+team+celebrates+at+the+2023+Houston+Invitational+game+against+North+Georgia.+This+year%2C+the+Mules+return+to+the+Houston+Astros%E2%80%99+Minute+Maid+Park+to+compete+in+the+Houston+Winter+Invitational+from+Feb.+2+to++4.+%0ASubmission+by+University+of+Central+Missouri+Athletics+with+photo+by+Erick+Williams+Photography.+
The UCM Mules Baseball team celebrates at the 2023 Houston Invitational game against North Georgia. This year, the Mules return to the Houston Astros’ Minute Maid Park to compete in the Houston Winter Invitational from Feb. 2 to 4. Submission by University of Central Missouri Athletics with photo by Erick Williams Photography.

The University of Central Missouri Mules baseball team will travel to Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas the first week of February. Mules baseball will participate in the Houston Winter Invitational which will be held from Feb 2 through Feb 4. One of the reasons for this event every year is UCM graduate, Jim Crane. Crane is now the owner and chairman of the Houston Astros. “When I bought the team, they had a DI tournament here, and I said, well, why don’t we have a DII tournament? And so I started the DII tournament,” Crane said.

  This Division II tournament, the Houston Winter Invitational, has taken place every year since 2013. During this stretch, Mules baseball players have received the major league treatment. “It’s really fun. You get to be in a major league dugout, field, everything. Jim Crane being the owner and coming here is a nice thing to have. I think all the boys really appreciate everything that we do there. He hooks us up pretty well, and it’s always a good experience,” Mules outfielder Carter Young said.

  The fun that is had by Young and the other players is exactly the environment that Crane is trying to create for the team in Houston. “They come in, I treat them like pros, I put them in the locker room, the Astros locker room, they get that all to themselves, and then they invite some other DII schools and it’s a lot of fun for them,” Crane said.

  The aspect of inviting other Division II schools makes the three games challenging for the Mules in Houston. Stiff competition is found by the Mules at Minute Maid Park annually. This year, the Mules are slated to play Millersville University, Southern New Hampshire University, and the University of Tampa. “It’s gonna be hard. Those are three World Series teams,” Mules head baseball coach, Kyle Crookes said. “It’s a different opponent because your conference is your conference, and it always will be. So in terms of midweeks and everything else, you’re kind of limited regionally in terms of where you can travel, so getting an opportunity to play some teams from the East Coast where you wouldn’t normally be able to play them is a fun change of pace. But I also think those three teams provide us the opportunity to really gauge where we’re at in the moment and where we want to get to, and it gives us a good idea, a good barometer there.”

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  The competition that the Mules see in Houston always gives them a chance to reflect and grow. This competition also fosters some excitement in the Mules squad. “Just hitting it off early, getting good reps against good teams and kind of seeing where that puts us being the beginning of the year. There’s always a lot to grow. So it’s exciting to see where we’re going to start against good teams and then coming back home and then going on with the season against conference,” Young said. “It’s always exciting.”

  With these tougher games in Houston, Crookes still sees them as any other game. Every game in Houston is just as important as a game elsewhere. “I mean, at this level, every game matters. Every game has got a regional ranking attached to it, every game and every opponent you’re playing is going to, you know, every win, every

loss, every neutral site, home, everything in our record, everything in our schedule, matter, they all matter,” Crookes said.

  This experience for the Mules is solely for them, as the Astros do not get a whole lot out of it. “We don’t make as much with the DII tournament,” Crane said. “[But] because they’re not local schools, it’s not a big draw. Not a lot of people around here, other than me, went to UCM. So, it’s just for the team and giving them some experience to play on a major league field and have a fun weekend.”

The willingness from Crane to put on this event despite not much financial benefit is appreciated from Crookes, especially with the benefits it brings for the Mules. “One good thing I’ll say is that they’ve got a dome, so we know we’re playing,”  Crookes said. “So it doesn’t mean it’s going to be warmer or anything but we know we’re going to play and that’s a big deal. We know when our season’s starting every year, not everybody does, and so that’s a part of it [that’s] good. We have a start date and we can go from there.”

 But as for the experience as a whole, the Houston Winter Invitational is an event that is enjoyed by all. “We’re just happy to have them here, it’s always fun to see the kids,” Crane said.

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  • UCM Mules Baseball player Brennan van Brusegen swings for the fences at the 2023 Houston Invitational. Currently, van Brusegen is a senior student-athlete on the University of Central Missouri’s Mules Baseball team. The Mules return to the Houston Astros’ Minute Maid Park to compete in the annual Houston Winter Invitational. Submission by University of Central Missouri Athletics with photo by Erick Williams Photography.

  • From 1973 to 1976, Jim Crane was a dominant pitcher for the University of Central Missouri (then Central Missouri State University) Mules Baseball team and was named the MIAA Most Valuable Player and an honorable mention Division II All-American. Being a baseball player at heart and becoming a successful businessman, Crane merged his two interests to become owner of the Houston Astros Major League Baseball franchise in 2011. Crane began the Division II Houston Winter Invitational in 2013. Photo submission by University of Central Missouri Athletics Archives

  • The UCM Mules Baseball team celebrates at the 2023 Houston Invitational game against North Georgia. This year, the Mules return to the Houston Astros’ Minute Maid Park to compete in the Houston Winter Invitational from Feb. 2 to 4. Submission by University of Central Missouri Athletics with photo by Erick Williams Photography.

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About the Contributor
Brad Hadank, Reporter
Brad Hadank is a Bolivar high school graduate, and a freshman at the University of Central Missouri. He is a double major studying digital media production and communication studies. As a staff reporter, Hadank has done profile pieces and plans to do more sports coverage. In the future, Hadank plans to pursue a career in sports journalism or sports broadcasting.

Comments (3)

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  • M

    mmminchuFeb 4, 2024 at 2:13 pm

    Way to go, Brad!

    Reply
  • W

    wgeigerFeb 1, 2024 at 10:21 am

    Cool story Brad! Awesome that you got an interview with Jim Crane!

    Reply
    • B

      Brad HadankFeb 1, 2024 at 12:05 pm

      Thank you Dr. Geiger! -Brad Hadank

      Reply