AUSTIN, Texas -- “It’s Houston hot out here today!”
With the mercury inching past the 90-degree mark, Mike Pede knew Friday’s Austin Super Regional battle between Texas and Houston would be a scorcher.
But that didn’t stop Pede, Houston’s associate vice president of alumni relations, from organizing a tailgate for the 600 Cougar fans who had made the three-hour trip north.
Houston, which hasn’t been to the College World Series since 1967, has seen fan base rejuvenated. “It’s no longer something to pass the time between basketball and football season. Baseball’s back in Houston and it’s vibrant,” Pede said.
Pede, who will attend his seventh College World Series in Omaha next week if the Cougars advance, hopes the rest of the Houston community will get the chance to do the same: “For our kids and our alums to experience a World Series, that would be an unforgettable experience.”
Houston first baseman Casey Grayson’s girlfriend, Kelli Camp, was also in attendance at the tailgate with her parents, trying to keep the nerves at bay. After traveling to LSU last weekend, where the Cougars came from behind to win the Regional and advance, Camp and her parents made the drive from Houston to see them take on Texas.
A few lawn chairs away, one of Grayson’s youngest fans, Ben Burch, 9, rested after a game of catch in the parking lot with two of his friends.
“I don’t even care if I fall asleep in the middle of the game!” Burch yelled in his Cougars hat, covered in players’ signatures. “The only thing I need to know is if the Cougars win.”
“I at least want to see them in the top four,” Burch said.
“No way,” his friend, Jackson Knower, 9, yelled back. “I want them to win the championship.”
“Our hitting’s pretty good,” Burch said. “We have a good outfielder named Landon Appling, and, if you live in Houston, our mascot even goes to the zoo!”
Burch’s mom, Kristen, shared her son’s faith in the Cougars.
“I’m just excited to show them what we’re capable of. Our fans are great, the team is great, and they’re still so humble. This year has been very impressive. We kept our composure and we never gave up.”
As just a few of the 7,385 fans at UFCU Disch-Falk Field, they made themselves heard every chance they got.
Even after falling to Texas in Game 1 of the Austin Super Regional 4-2, hope in the Cougar camp is at an all-time high – and a trip to the College World Series would mean even more when the road to Omaha goes through in-state rival Texas.
“It’s not a religion,” Burch said, “but next to football, it’s pretty darn close.”