HARRIS COUNTY-HOUSTON SPORTS AUTHORITY INSIDER

Once again, Houston is in the mix to host the Final Four

Once again, Houston is in the mix to host the Final Four
Houston hopes to host the Final Four again. Courtesy photo

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Three Super Bowls. Two Final Fours. Three NCAA Regionals.

Any questions?

We may not have any, but the NCAA Men’s Basketball Committee does have a few which is why two members of the committee and other NCAA officials are in town for one final site visit before the group meets to decide the venues for the 2023-2026 Men’s Final Fours.

There’s no arguing that the Bayou City knows how to throw a mega sports event, but Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhardt and Duke AD Kevin White flew into Houston Thursday to take it all in one more time.

They’re here to ask questions, spend time with organizers, look over venues, hotels and, Houston hopes, choose the Bayou City to host its  third Final Four.

Houston is one of seven finalists for one of those coveted four years up for bid, and the decision will be made by the 10-person committee in mid-July in Boston.

“You get a real sense of Houston that it has become a championship city. That may sound a little Pollyana,’’ said White, referring to the Disney character who always looks on the bright side, “but it’s not . . . .

“This is a city that knows how to put on, how to host major events. There’s a real track record of success. And now we find out it has (the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo) that goes on for a couple of weeks. This community knows how to support major events and that will be pretty impactful when the committee meets.’’

Just how impactful? Every little bit helps when you’re up against North Texas and AT&T Stadium, San Antonio, Detroit, Indianapolis and Los Angeles. All but Los Angeles has hosted a Final Four and LA is building a facility in Inglewood.

Houston’s bid was on stage Thursday at NRG when Barnhart, White and the NCAA toured the facility and attended a welcome reception at the stadium.

“Our campaign is Three for the Win,’’ said Janis Burke, CEO of the Harris County – Houston Sports Authority. “We’re excited to be among the finalists and we look forward to showing off what we feel is a tremendous host city one more time for the committee.’’

Barnhardt and White both noted that they’ll be looking at the new hotels and upgrades since the last time the Final Four was here in 2016. The use of Discovery Green and much of the downtown campus during Super Bowl LI have also caught the committee’s eyes.

“All the pieces of the puzzle have been here,’’ White said. “Now they’re enhanced . . . There is some very strong competition – let’s be very frank and honest about that. But I cannot imagine that Houston, by the end of the day, will not be seriously in the mix. “

Barnhardt, who was here with Kentucky in 2011, said the fan-friendly atmosphere plays a role in the city bids too.

“First and foremost, it’s about the athletes and the players being able to enjoy and have a really quality experience,’’ he said. “Secondly, the fans. We want them to have an opportunity to feel the life of the city, to enjoy themselves and experience some great basketball and have a really, really cool experience.’’

White and Barnhardt will take their findings to the committee and the seven finalist cities will have one more chance to sell their bid and answer any final questions.

“Then,’’ White said, “as, within the Catholic community, we’ll see white smoke.’’

Houston will host a 2020 NCAA Regional and the city was recently awarded the  2024 College Football Playoff National Championship game. The city is also one of the eight finalists for the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Fours from 2020-2024, which will be awarded later this year.






 

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Tucker teams with Topps! Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images.

Juan Soto has been on baseball cards with Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Trout, Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado and Xander Bogaerts.

But this one, well, this one was a little different for Soto. This one had the New York Yankees slugger and Puerto Rican musician Daddy Yankee.

“It surprised me. It really struck me when they told me. ... It came over to my house, and I saw myself with Daddy Yankee,” Soto said. “It was just great. I mean, the Big Boss! It’s just great.”

The Soto-Daddy Yankee collaboration is one of two “Signature Tunes” cards that are part of the latest edition of Topps Series 2 as the famed card company shines a light on players and the artists behind their walk-up music.

Houston Astros slugger Kyle Tucker and rap superstar Travis Scott are on the other “Signature Tunes” card. Scott is from Houston, and he gave the Astros pairs of his Air Jordan 1 Low Olive shoes last year.

There are 25 autographed versions of each duo in Series 2, which was released on Wednesday.

“You don’t see too many of those, you see them typically with another player or something like that,” Tucker said. "But to be on a card or baseball card with someone that kind of has a further reach outside of baseball is, I think, pretty cool.”

Daddy Yankee and Myke Towers — another Puerto Rican musician — also are included in the set's “ First Pitch ” insert cards, highlighting the ubiquitous pregame ritual.

Clay Luraschi, the head of product development for Topps, said music, particularly walk-up, and for pitchers, warmup music, has become an important part of the game.

“What we really do is, we think about, OK, the core of it for Series 2 or Series 1, our flagship, it's baseball," he said, "but what are the other things that are like surrounding the game that fans are also interested in? And that’s where we come up with these other ideas that we feel like, you know, fit into the world of the game.”

Tucker was placed on the 10-day injured list on Friday with a bruised right shin. But he has been using Rich Homie Quan's “Walk Thru” as his walk-up song before his plate appearances. He has used Scott's “Escape Plan” in the past.

“Walk Thru” had been Michael Brantley's walk-up tune before he retired in January after finishing his career with the Astros.

“It was kind of somewhat of a tribute to Mike’s career and stuff. And I just kind of kept it going,” Tucker said. “Really the first game I got a couple of hits when I used it, so I just kept rolling with it and it’s done pretty well for me.”

The 27-year-old Tucker, who is among the major league leaders with 19 homers, said he likes Houston reliever Ryan Pressly using Johnny Cash's “God's Gonna Cut You Down” as his warmup music. Growing up in Tampa, Florida, he also remembers Tantric's “Down and Out” as the walk-up song for former Rays infielder Evan Longoria.

“That kind of always stuck with me,” Tucker said.

Soto, 25, has used Daddy Yankee's “HOT” as his walk-up music in the past. He was traded from San Diego to New York in December, and he went with Jay-Z's “Empire State of Mind” for his home debut with the Yankees.

“For me, it’s gotta be something that gets you hyped, it gets you really thinking about what you’re gonna do," Soto said. “Something that, you want the fans to get crazy but you want yourself to get crazy, too.”

Soto has been using “Estamos Arriba” by Bad Bunny and Towers, a song he said he got from Milwaukee Brewers shortstop Willy Adames.

Asked for one of his favorite combinations involving another player, Soto pointed to Charlie Blackmon with the Colorado Rockies. Blackmon uses “Your Love” by The Outfield.

“I don’t know the name of the song, but I know it’s just like, I just know it says that, ‘I just wanna (use) your love tonight,’ and whenever they say love they just turn it off and the whole crowd goes, ‘To-night!’” Soto said. ”It was so good. I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is great.’ I think that’s the only guy who can have that walk-up song."

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