HOUSTON -- Texas is generally known as football country, but don't tell that to the Major League Baseball players, coaches and front office executives with ties to Houston and its outlying areas who are waist-deep in all things Major League Baseball.
Why should Houston care about the 2008 playoffs? Because 14 baseball figures who particpated in the World Series have Houston ties -- five with the Phillies and a whopping nine with the Rays.
In 2002, an 18-year-old Scott Kazmir was hours away from becoming a first-rounder in the First-Year Player Draft when he was invited to the Astros' ballpark to meet a fellow diminutive lefty who also happened to be Kazmir's baseball idol. Wide-eyed and awestruck, Kazmir sat quietly and shyly and he absorbed wise words from fireballer Billy Wagner.
Kazmir, the ace of the Rays' well-rounded pitching staff, has certainly come a long way since dazzling his Cypress Falls teammates by reeling off four straight no-hitters his junior year.
Elsewhere in Houston, James Loney, future Dodgers infielder, cut his teeth as an Elkins High School standout. He was part of the RBI program (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) and was highly touted as both a first baseman and a pitcher. As a prep senior, he hit .509 while spinning a 9-1 record and a 1.80 ERA.
Rays outfielder Carl Crawford surprised no one in Houston with his rise to Major League stardom. Houston Chronicle Astros beat writer Brian McTaggart covered high schools when Crawford -- "a rare package of speed and strength" -- starred at Jefferson Davis High School in the late 1990s. Nine years ago, the scribe predicted future greatness for the phenom.
"One of the greatest all-around athletes in Houston high school history." McTaggart remembered. "I thought for sure he would make the NFL. I thought baseball was the third of his three sports. Anything with a ball, he dominated."
As did Josh Beckett, who was USA Today's High School Pitcher of the Year his senior season after going 10-1 with a 0.46 ERA. Beckett was the second pick in the draft that year, taken by the Marlins.
Beckett and Kazmir opposed each other in Game 2 of the 2008 American League Championship Series, and while they didn't face each other in high school -- Beckett is four years older than Kazmir -- the two are familiar with each other's accomplishments, both as high school stars and big league flamethrowers.
"I've watched him since high school," Kazmir said of Beckett. "You just pick up a lot of things from a guy like that, just how competitive he is and how he goes about his business and whatnot. There's quite a few things that you can take out of someone like that ... that's been there, done everything, and really knows how to go about his business."
Beckett illustrated a casual but friendly relationship with his younger counterpart.
"Generally it's just kind of a, 'Hey, how you doing' relationship," Beckett said. "I think most people, particularly pitchers from Texas, generally end up talking about fishing or hunting or something like that. We don't generally end up talking about [baseball] too much."
But others do. Texas -- and more specifically, Houston -- will be watching, even on a college football Saturday.
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com.