There were more than few firsts last weekend in Houston for the Abilene Christian University baseball team, their fans and some special kids they befriended while there.
Head coach Britt Bonneau’s baseball team split its four-game series in the season-opening Astros-in-Action Division II Baseball Tournament. It was the first time for a Wildcat team to play a game in Minute Maid Park, and for some players, their first visit to that stadium, which is home to the Houston Astros. About 400 ACU fans attended a pre-game party Feb. 2 in the centerfield Champions Pavilion, among them alumni, and parents and friends of the student-athletes.
The most hardy travelers were family members of senior outfielder Kyle Conwell, who lives in Renton, Wash. Some of his family made the more than 1,900-mile trip to watch Kyle. Among relatives were his father, Vince Conwell and stepmother Deanna Conwell; grandparents Fred and Peggy Lange and Ernie and Alma Conwell; and cousins Madison, Brady, Carter and Christie Stevens.
Long-distance kudos also go to Randy and Sandy Rodriguez, parents of junior pitcher Brady Rodriguez, who live 1,300 miles away in Plymouth, Mich. Randy played his freshman year at ACU and is still in the top 10 of single-season ERA leaders (fifth place with a 1.96 ERA in 1977) in the Wildcat record books. Brady turned in two effective relief performances in the tournament.
Bonneau’s team (2-2) registered wins over the University of Arkansas at Monticello and University of the Incarnate Word, and returns to town to play the first of 25 straight games in Abilene (24 of them at home in Crutcher Scott Field, one at McMurry University) later today.
Last Saturday morning, the Wildcats took time before their game that night with the University of Central Missouri to play some ball with grateful kids from the neighborhoods near the Impact Houston Church of Christ. This story in the Optimist student newspaper documents their experience.
The team treated about 20 middle-schoolers to batting practice at Stude Park, followed by a three-inning whiffle ball game. The Wildcat squad divided into two teams: those from Texas and those from out of state, plus the kids. Grant Boone (’91), alumni relations officer and the radio voice of ACU sports, served as pitcher. Impact middle school youth minister Josef Bilnoski helped arrange the outing.
“While the Impact church is a diverse congregation, many of those kids have no adult male with a positive influence in their lives,” said Boone, who has helped take Highland Church of Christ youth groups to Houston to work on service projects in recent years. “So for a few hours that day and at lunch afterward, it was a really positive experience for some to spend time with a young adult guy who paid attention to them. It could have a lasting influence.”
Many thanks to ACU’s three Houston-area representatives – university relations manager Carri Hill, advancement officer Eric Fridge (’91) and admissions counselor Lauryn Lewis (’08) – along with senior alumni relations officer Samantha (Bickett ’01) Adkins, for organizing the pre-game party, which also was attended by future students. And to Jeremy Enlow for the event photography.
This is the Wildcats’ last season in NCAA Division II before moving to the Division I Southland Conference this fall.