. Larry hung a tire from a tree in the backyard. And he had Lance swing at the tire with the bat both right-handed and lefthanded—building arm strength without lifting weights.
- Berkman's father, Larry, once played for the University of Texas and turned Lance into a switch-hitter when he was six years old
"My Dad was sort of a baseball nut, so I was always outside hitting and working on both swings," Lance said. "I remember my teammates in Little League wanted me to hit from the right side when it was a big situation, and they would get mad because my Dad would make me switch."So, Lance has taken his cuts from both sides of the plate since he was a Little Leaguer. His father was a huge Mickey Mantle fan. Mantle is the only switch-hitter ever to post more than a single 40-dinger season. He did it in four seasons—twice surpassing 50. The first swing Lance took as a six-year-old was from the right side. Then, for a while, he would change every other at-bat, regardless of whether the pitcher was righthanded or lefthanded. But because he expended so much learning to go both ways, and because the vast majority of pitchers are righthanded, he grew to be more comfortable batting left.Lance was not even drafted out of New Braunfels Canyon High School in Texas. Then he became one of the top power hitters in NCAA history. In high school, he hit .539 with eight home runs and 30 RBI as a senior. But he was chubby and didn't look like an athlete. He only got a partial scholarship to Rice, where teammates nicknamed Berkman "Fatty Kruk."Berkman and Albert Pujols both played for the Hays (Kansas) Larks in the Jayhawk League, a summer wood-bat league for elite college players. Players live with families who open their homes, and Berkman and Pujols stayed with Frank and Barb Leo. So they slept in the same bed—but four years apart.In 1997, Berkman hit .438-41-134 for Rice University and was National Player of the Year. It was the second-highest home run and RBI totals in NCAA history. And he showed great balance, belting 23 homers from the left side and 18 from the right. He and reliever Matt Anderson helped the Owls make their first College World Series appearance.At Rice University they still love to tell the "Blue Dart" story. As legend has it, Owls coach Wayne Graham had all of his players run a three-mile loop around Houston's Memorial Park in less than 21 minutes. He told they they'd have to keep trying until they succeeded.
While his roommates spent the summer in training, Berkman ate pizza and played the role of resident sedentary guy. But he also hatched a survival plan. After making a token effort on his first three-mile run—while his roommates passed the test—Lance would run far enough on his second attempt to disappear from view. Once he was shielded from the sight of the coaching staff, his buddies would swing by in a car, pick him up, and drive him most of the way around the course.
When race day arrived, Lance bounded out of his vehicle moments before the scheduled 7:00 a.m. start. He wore blue Rice shorts with matching T-shirt and headband, tennis shoes and no socks. And he trash-talked about the whipping he was about to apply. He called himself the "Blue Dart."
Berkman busted out as if spring-loaded, with the expectation that he would croak in a hurry. Then he checked his watch and was astonished to see he'd covered the first mile in a blistering 5:40. He decided to keep pushing, and he continued to lead the pack.
"At about the two-mile marker, a gorilla jumped on my back and the party was over," Lance recalled. "But I was so close to finishing, I decided to go ahead and try to make this thing."
He managed to hang on and wheeze home in less than 19 minutes. Coach Graham initially accused him of cheating. But after Berkman dropped to his hands and knees and vomited in the grass, the coach relented. (Jerry Crasnick-ESPN.com-June 2008)He has an exceptional work ethic, quiet confidence and a professional approach to the game.
Lance has a real desire to become one of the best players in the league, on both offense and defense—and he has made it. And he works very hard to continue to achieve that goal.
LANCE'S FAMILYHe and wife Cara, celebrated the birth of their first child, daughter Hannah, May 16, 2001. Their second daughter, Carly, was born near the end of the 2003 season.Lance and Cara were blessed by the birth of Carly Anne Berkman on August 24, 2003. She is their second daughter.Cara's father, Johnny Baker, was a linebacker for the Houston Oilers. Berkman and Baker bonded immediately and enjoy what Baker now calls a "one-upsmanship" relationship with his son-in-law. "Everything is competitive," Baker said. "He fits in. But when we play basketball, we get after it. We play ping-pong, we get after it. It doesn't matter what we do, we go all out." Baker is genuine in his affection for Berkman. "We have three other boys," Baker said. "I've always said that Lance is my fourth boy."
Lance says that the day he asked his future father-in-law for permission to marry his wife, Cara. Of course, this isn't just any future father-in-law, with Cara's dad being Johnny Baker, who in his heyday was a Houston Oilers linebacker.
So, why so nervous?
"The man is 6-foot-5, 260 [pounds], and it's his only daughter," Berkman said. "He was not expecting it. It was 1998, right before I came to Spring Training. I told him I wanted to talk to him about something. He said, 'Come over for breakfast.' He thought I was going to talk to him about some kind of financial deal.
"I said, 'I want to talk to you about marrying your daughter.' He says, 'MARRIAGE?' and slaps the counter top. And I was like, 'Oh my gosh! Seriously, give me five minutes and you'll never see me again. Just give me a head start for the door.'"
But it all worked out in the end. "After he got over the initial surprise, it was a great conversation," Berkman said. Of all the Astros, his former teammate, P Billy Wagner knew Berkman the best. They train together during the off-seasons. "Lance is a good-hearted kid," Wagner says. "He's so naive. You enjoy listening to some of his goofy stories and watching the things he does. He loves the game and he loves to compete."Lance is truly one of the classiest men in the game.Berkman competed in the Home Run Derby at the 2002 All Star Game, but finished last. So he took some heat from his teammates when the season resumed. But Lance said the best rip came from Brian Hunter: "Hunter told me he was talking to a friend and he said, `How's my man doing in the derby?' " Berkman said. "Then his friend told him I had 30, 29 in the regular season and one in the derby." In January 2003, during the Astros' Winter Caravan tour, Lance told a group of star-struck youngsters about an incident from his youth. "Wanna hear about what happened to me during a track meet when I was in the eighth grade?" Berkman asked.
In the middle of a race of substantial distance, young Berkman felt stomach pains coming on at a most inopportune time. Fighting to ignore the rush of ... well, discomfort, Berkman continued on his journey to the finish line. But he soon found out that it's not good to fight Mother Nature. With his body in full sprint mode, Berkman's insides defied his brain's begging for just a little more time and, well, it was, to say the least, an awkward run to the finish line.
"You know how most people, when they get done running a race, they stop short and bend over to catch their breath?" Berkman said. "Well, I just kept running. Right to the bathroom."
After a visit to the restroom, Berkman went back to the meet—to compete in the high jump.Berkman is not one to start unsolicited conversations about himself but also does not hold back when approached about certain topics. He is open about his devotion to his Christian faith. He will talk at length about his family, which includes his wife Cara, daughter Hannah and another baby on the way. He makes no apologies for considering baseball the third most important element of his life.
"To me, that's what it's all about," he said. "This game is temporary. Everybody has a last game. No matter what I do on the field, someday, that part of my life will be over."
What he has for the long haul is his family—both the one that raised him and the one to which he became equally attached when he got married.
Berkman is a dedicated Texan. Not only does he say he will never move his main residence anywhere else, he doesn't even want to take a vacation away from the Lone Star state.Lance is outspoken, clever and entertaining. He is not a bit shy about facing notebooks and microphones. He also is laid-back. And he maintains a positive attitude. A few people have called Lance the Astros' version of Yogi Berra.
His quotes are usually fodder for his teammates. Ausmus even decorates his locker stall with one infamous Berkmanism.
"One-run games," Berkman reasoned, "can go either way. And most of the times they do."
Lance admits his personality is a part of how he deals with the stress of a long season.
"This is an entertainment business, first and foremost or at its core," Berkman says. "People like colorful people, and they like colorful quotes and comments. They don't like the same old clichés. I just try to have fun with some of my interviews. I just try to make people laugh."
On June 10, 2006, Lance and wife Cara, celebrated the birth of their third daughter, Kate Mae.
June 23, 2009: Lance's wife, Cara, gave birth to another daughter—the fourth one, and no boys. Abigail Primm Berkman weighed in at 7 pounds 9 onuces.
In 2006, Berkman got the nickname "Big Puma." How? Essentially, he became tired of the "Fat Elvis" nickname, and, during semi-regular spots on a local morning sports-talk radio show, he began to interject the "Big Puma" label. The hosts caught on and began using it, too, and before long, Berkman had a new identity.
Why Puma? To Berkman, it just makes sense.
"Agile, athletic, sleek ... all the things that describe my game," Berkman said.
Lance teaches the Bible to young people—teenagers at a Bethel Independent Presbyterian Church in Houston, especially during the offseason. For better or worse, Berkman realizes that children and young men put value in what star athletes say and do, so he is committed to using his platform to tackle some of the problems he sees in American society.
"The whole purpose is to give young boys and men a clear definition of what real men are," Berkman says. He calls his outreach program "The King's Men."
"The King is Jesus (Christ), and we're trying to create followers," Berkman says. "Also, we wanted to give a Knights of the Round Table-type of thing where you're part of something that's bigger than yourself. If you can give these guys a sense of direction, something positive to draw from, it will help them make better choices, be better citizens and hopefully lead more productive lives that have a purpose."
At each meeting, the athletes first have dinner before they listen to a speaker and watch a video presentation. In the first two meetings, Berkman spent about 45 minutes sharing his views with the athletes.
"Just trying to give guys a vision of what I consider authentic manhood," Berkman says. "There are a lot of poor examples of men in positions of leadership. Also, we're trying to give them a biblical definition of what authentic manhood is. A real man is one who rejects passivity, accepts responsibility and leads courageously."
Although he understands the message he is delivering isn't welcomed by everyone, he vows to continue spreading his testimony.
"The overriding thing has to be a love for people," he says. "If you don't love people, you don't care if we live in a morally degrading society. Christ is about love, and that's what we want to be about as well."
With that said, Berkman doesn't necessarily view tolerance positively.
"In society, there's a victim mentality, there's kind of an anything goes, wishy-washy, if-it-feels-good-do-it mentality," he says. "I think it's very dangerous. To me, the buzz word in America is 'tolerance.' You have to tolerate anything. And even if you don't agree with it, it's all about tolerance. And I don't think that's any way to live. Real men are defined by strong values." (Jose Ortiz-Houston Chronicle-1/26/07)
Berkman doesn't drink or swear, he drives a Ford F-150, and has a wardrobe that's mostly jeans and boots. He has very approachable. He is a devout Christian and a political conservative. Don't get him started on them dad-gum liberals.
His idea of a perfect day is to spend a morning doing chores on his Brenham (Tx.) ranch and an afternoon watching college football. He also likes to hunt and fish, ride horses, and he holds his own on the golf course.
Teammates began calling Berkman "Big Puma" in 2008. And Lance finds that nickname far preferrable to "Fat Elvis," the moniker he lugged around for awhile after an appearance on the Dan Patrick radio show.
Why is he The Puma?
"Pumas are fast and lean and deadly," Lance said. "That's me."
Lance is a prototype for what every pro athlete should be because of the way he lives his life and plays the game. In the steroid era, he's completely untainted except for an occasional extra piece of pie.
Berkman's jersey spent 14 days in space during a space flight with NASA. His jersey was the only jersey that was chosen by NASA.
Teammates, opponenets, managers, fans, media members and scouts regard Berkman as an uncommonly nice person and the classic case of an athlete who has his act together. He's quotable, approachable and brimming with perspective, and that rare star player who is able to dissect his performances through a self-deprecating lens.
During 2013 spring training, Ian Kinsler made one observation about teammate Lance Berkman.
"Sometimes I think he'd rather sit around and talk to his teammates about baseball more than playing the game," Kinsler said.
Berkman smiled at Kinsler's insight, "That's probably a pretty good assessment," Berkman said. "I do enjoy the interaction with teammates. Competing is fun and winning is fun, but the investment you make with your teammates is a great part of the game."
Matt Holliday said. "He's just a fun guy. He's funny and doesn't take things too seriously and as far as a person goes, he's a great guy, somebody that everybody likes to be around. He's really funny. He added a lot." Berkman is never afraid to speak his mind, whether it is in a serious moment or just having fun.
"He keeps things loose, but he'll definitely speak his mind," Mitch Moreland said. "He's always joking around, which is good. This game will put pressure on you and sometimes you can feel the tension. You always need guys to keep it loose. To have a guy like Berkman, he's fun and he's been successful. That's good to have."
Berkman, who grew up in the Astros' organization around Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Ken Caminiti, doesn't need to be to be prodded to speak up or impart his considerable wisdom to teammates.
Fellow Rice teammate Philip Humber says---"The year we won the [College] World Series, in the offseason he would come and do a Bible study with the guys, and I learned a lot from him," Humber said. "We maybe went to lunch together once or twice, but I never spent a whole lot of time with him. I have a whole lot of respect for him as a player and a person, and he is a great representative of baseball and Rice."
TRANSACTIONSJune 1997: The Astros chose him in the first round, out of Rice University. Lance got a $1 million signing bonus from the Astros when he signed. He lives less than two hours from Houston in New Braunfels, Texas.
"I couldn't be happier if I'd been picked number one," Berkman said when he signed. "To get picked by the Astros is just a thrill for me. I never thought it would happen." January 2002: Berkman signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract with the Astros. The pact was for $500,000 in 2002, $3.5 million in 2003 and $6.5 million in 2004.March 18, 2005: Berkman signed a six-year, $85 million contract with the Astros. It runs through the 2010 season with a $2 million buyout on a $15 million club option for 2011. Berkman earned $10.5 million for 2005 and $14.5 million each of the five seasons 2006–2010.
Lance donates $100,000 each season to the Astros in Action Foundation, can earn an extra $500,000 for winning the National League Most Valuable Player award, $350,000 for finishing second or $250,000 for finishing third.July 31, 2010: The Yankees sent RHP Mark Melancon and INF Jimmy Paredes to the Astros, acquiring Berkman. The Yankees also received "cash considerations'' from the Astros, who will assume a portion of Berkman's remaining salary for the rest of the 2010 season and for 2011.
Lance had to approve the deal, waiving his no-trade clause. And he did so in part so that he could again be teammates with P Andy Pettitte, one of his best friends.December 4, 2010: Berkman signed with the Cardinals, receiving $8 million for the 2011 season.September 22, 2011: Lance signed another one-year contract with the Cardinals.January 5, 2012: Berkman signed a one-year, $10 million contract with the Rangers. The deal also includes a vesting option for a second year if Berkman reaches 550 plate appearances in 2013. Also, a source says there's a $1 million buyout on the option year.
October 31, 2013: The Rangers declined the $12 million club option to retain Lance, paying him the $1 million buyout instead.April 5, 2014 Berkman officially retires as Astro.
CAREER INJURY REPORT:
- April 1999: Berkman had surgery to repair a small lateral meniscus tear in his left knee.
- April 17, 2003: Lance missed time with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left elbow. It was a Level One sprain. (Level One is the least severe, number three is the worst, and number two can require surgery.)
Although he isn't sure, he might have suffered the sprain sliding headfirst into first base when he hit into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded April 16 at San Francisco. "I hit the bag with my left hand," said Berkman, who suffered a deep abrasion on his right forearm on the slide. "It's never good to slide headfirst. It's a stupid play. You tell yourself not to do it. In the heat of the moment, you're desperate. It was a close game. I had a lot of adrenaline, so I didn't feel anything until after the game. I could have done it on a throw or on that slide, but I don't know."
November 2004: Berkman tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while playing flag football. He used humor to caution against panic, joking that he was more frustrated because he wasn't playing "worth a dang" during the flag football game when he got hurt at Second Baptist Church on Oct. 28.
"It happened at Second Baptist, and that's not even where I go to church," Lance said. "I had no business being out there (playing football). There's no doubt about that. At the same time, we play football all the time in the offseason. I use that as part of just staying in shape. I was playing safety and the guy was running down the opposite sideline," he said. "I was probably running three-quarters speed just loping along. He tried to stop and I tried to stop, and I put my foot down and it gave way. It gave a nasty crunch sound and I said, 'Oh, gosh.' I stayed in the game. A couple of plays later I was playing quarterback and made a pass and jumped up to throw the ball and when I landed I felt it give a little bit again."
He had surgery and started the 2005 season on the D.L., not being activated until May 6.
January 26, 2006: Lance had arthroscopic knee surgery to clean up minor scar tissue that developed in his right knee after his surgery in 2004.March 27, 2009: Berkman was sidelined for a few days by biceps tendinitis. He could not raise his fist past his shoulder.July 21-August 12, 2009: Lance was on the D.L. after an MRI revealed a Grade 2 strain of his left calf. He was given a boot to wear for protection.March 13-April 20, 2010: Berkman had surgery to remove loose particles from his left knee.August 17-September 1, 2010: Lance was on the D.L. with a sprained right ankle.July 26, 2011: Berkman had to leave a game when a sore right shoulder acted up more. It had bothered Lance for a few days.
April 13-May 13, 2012: Lance suffered a calf strain legging out a triple. The injury was not a major tear and did not land him on the D.L. immediately.
May 20, 2012: Less than a week later, Berkman aggravated the right calf injury when he made a misstep while pursuing a popup and went on the D.L. An MRI showed Lance had suffered a substantial meniscus tear in his right knee, as well as some torn cartilage.
Lance had surgery on May 25. He returned to action on July 14, 2012.
August 3-31, 2012: Berkman was back on the D.L. with right knee inflammation. "The muscle that comes over the knee doesn't have enough strength now. It just needs to get stronger. As far as how long it set it back, I don't know. It's not like I just got hurt again. It's certainly stronger than that. But it's not where it needs to be," Lance said.
Finally on September 11, 2012, Lance flew home to Houston to have his troublesome right knee examined, and it was determined that the 36-year-old veteran would require meniscus surgery, a procedure very similar to the one he had in May.
July 7-September 1, 2013: Berkman was on the D.L. with left hip inflammation.