HOUSTON – Lance Berkman has been back before.
He spent 12 seasons with the Astros before they dealt him to the Yankees in 2010. He then returned to Minute Maid Park for the first time as a St. Louis Cardinal in 2011. Berkman spent last season with the Cardinals and is now with the Texas Rangers.
Returning as an opponent is nothing new to Berkman, but it still stirs the emotions.
“The first time was almost a monumental experience,” Berkman said. “I didn’t know how I was going to be received. I didn’t know what kind of an emotional reaction I’d have personally and getting into the batter’s box. All of that is sort of behind me now. Not that I don’t get a little emotional, just not nearly as much as the first time.”
Berkman remembers his first time back well. He didn’t know what to expect because, as he said, there’s rarely a “good” breakup when a franchise-caliber player leaves. Berkman had seen former Astros such as Billy Wagner and Carlos Beltran get booed.
“I feel like there was maybe a little animosity surrounding my last year here,” Berkman said. “Because of that, I had no idea. You never want to be booed by the people you’ve played in front of for so many years. I was a little nervous, but the response was great. And if there is any sort of gulf, it’ll be bridged quickly.”
Berkman, who lives in Houston, said he has enjoyed all four organizations he’s played for in his career, but will have an Astros allegiance when his playing career is over.
Berkman and the Astros had interest in a possible reunion this off-season, but there was never an offer made. And, at this point in his career, Berkman is more focused on contending for a World Series championship while the Astros are clearly in a rebuilding mode.
As far as being the designated hitter in a longtime National League city, Berkman said: "I think we've all had ample time to get over the fact that the Astros are now in the American League. It'll be different, but not too strange."
-- Drew Davison