HOUSTON -- Astros owner Jim Crane, who pitched for the University of Central Missouri in the 1970s wearing No. 24, was given a framed replica of a Mules jersey from the school on Saturday, and moments later Crane threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Saturday's ceremonies were prior to the start of Central Missouri's NCAA Division II baseball game with St. Mary's (Texas) as part of the 2014 Houston Winter Invitational at Minute Maid Park, home of the Astros.
The framed No. 24 jersey was presented to Crane by Mules athletic director Jerry Hughes and head baseball coach Tom Myers.
Appreciative of what Central Missouri has meant to his life and career, Crane started the four-day NCAA Division II tournament at Minute Maid Park last year.
"It's a lot of fun. The kids get to play in a Major League ballpark," Crane said. "It kind of started when I took over the team. The D-I teams were playing in a tournament here, so we wanted to do something special for the D-II guys.
"So we'll have a tournament here every year. They're excited and it's been fun to let them play in the ballpark. We've had a long-standing relationship with the athletic department there, long before we were involved with the Astros."
Crane graduated at Central Missouri with a bachelor of science in industrial safety in 1976. He was an honorable mention NCAA Division II All-America pitcher, going 21-8 with a 2.42 ERA. Crane has actively been involved in the Mules' athletic department, donating $1.2 million in 1998 to refurbish the school's stadium, James R. Crane Stadium at Robert N. Tompkins Field.
"I told the kids in the locker room today, I was fortunate enough to graduate from this school," Crane said. "I made a talk with them to make sure you get your degree."
Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com.