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Jose Cruz Jr.

Jose Cruz Jr. will take Rice to Puerto Rico in 2025

Rice set for inaugural 2025 Puerto Rico Challenge

Astros legend Jose Cruz remains one of the most revered baseball figures in his native Puerto Rico. For more than 50 years, he has spent part of the winter in La Isla del Encanto. He has spent most of that time watching or participating in winter league baseball in some fashion.

It’s been 36 years since Cruz retired as a big league player, but he still gives back to the next generation of Puerto Rican baseball players. So Cruz was happy to learn that his son Jose Cruz Jr. will take the Rice University baseball team to open the 2025 season at the inaugural Puerto Rico Challenge.

“I hope my players learn from this trip how big the world is and how baseball can impact lives,” Jose Cruz Jr. said. “People are watching you and can get inspiration from you in many ways. We hope that playing there can inspire other kids from the island to want to play at Rice.”

The elder Cruz is usually back in Houston by February. He hopes to stay in Puerto Rico, though, a little longer next year to watch the Owls. 

Jose Cruz excited about Rice’s trip to Puerto Rico

“This is wonderful,” Cruz said in Spanish from Puerto Rico. “I’m very excited. This is very good for Puerto Rico and for Rice.”

Cruz Sr., 76, spent 13 of his 19 major league seasons with the Astros. With his No. 25 retired in Houston, he remains one of the most beloved figures in Astros history. He’s also a respected elder for Puerto Ricans currently in the majors.

Rice’s baseball team is perhaps the only baseball team Cruz loves more than the Astros. His sons Jose Jr. and Jose Enrique both starred for the Owls. Jose Cruz Jr. is credited with being the first star prospect to help former Rice coach Wayne Graham build the Owls into a major power in the 1990s.

Then Jose Enrique Cruz played on the 2003 Rice team that won the school’s first and only College World Series title. Jose Cruz Jr. is entering his third season as Rice’s head baseball coach.

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Cruz Jr., who was born in Arroyo, Puerto Rico, is one of only 13 Latino head coaches in Division I baseball. Stanford head coach David Esquer, Cruz and new Miami head coach J.D. Arteaga are the only three Latinos coaching programs with rich histories of contending for College World Series titles.

Cruz Jr. was hired by his alma mater in June 2021 with hopes of bringing the Owls back to prominence. Along the way, Cruz Jr. wants to give his players special opportunities like the trip to Puerto Rico in 2025.

‘Historical’ trip

“Being a part of something historical is always special, but when it is in your home country it makes it truly memorable,” Jose Cruz Jr. said. “Creating memorable experiences for our student-athletes is something we value at Rice. Playing in front of a different type of crowd will be something we will always remember. 

“At the same time, I take great pride in the opportunity this allows us to impact so many young kids from Puerto Rice. The fact that we have a chance to impact an entire country makes this Puerto Rico Challenge tournament all the more satisfying.”

Guy Garibay Rice
Rice slugger Guy Garibay celebrates a two-run homer. Photo by David Pillen, Rice University.

Rice will be joined at the Challenge by UConn, Michigan, Missouri, Penn State, Stetson, Villanova and Virginia. The tournament will be held in the cities of Ponce and Mayagüez on Feb. 13-16, 2025. As part of the Challenge, which is produced by JoGi Sports and MB Sports, the student athletes are scheduled to do community service on the island. 

Highlighting Puerto Rico’s rich baseball history

Baseball clinics for elementary school-age children are also on the agenda. A college fair is also planned. There are currently four Puerto Ricans in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Roberto Clemente was the first inducted in 1973. He was followed by Roberto Alomar Jr., Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez and Edgar Martinez. 

Other Puerto Rican stars have been inducted into their respective teams’ Hall of Fames. Jose Cruz Sr. is a member of the Astros’ Hall of Fame.

An exhibit is being planned to highlight Puerto Rico’s rich baseball culture during the Challenge. The elder Cruz’s contributions will surely be highlighted. Jose Cruz Jr. is also a significant part of Puerto Rico’s baseball history.

“My father was very excited,” Jose Cruz Jr. says. “He could not believe we were able to get a college tournament to our part of the island. He said he’d be there.”

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