Friday Night, February 10, 2012, Lance Berkman was in Houston (where he lives, anyway) to accept his award at the 27th annual Houston Baseball Dinner as the Houston Area Major League Player of the Year. All the guy did to earn it for the 2011 season at the swank downtown Hilton Inn of the Americas presentation was bat .301 with 31 homers and 94 runs batted in for the World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals while also becoming one of two Cards to bring his club back from a one-strike-away loss to the Texas Rangers and back into position to set up that game-winning dinger by teammates David Freese in the arguably most exciting Game Seven in history.
Now 35-year-old Lance Berkman has his .296 career batting average for 13-seasons (1999-2011) perched like two balanced red birds on a bat with a total of 358 home runs and 1,193 runs batted in thrown in for good measure. His world is right side up with apparently no regrets or lingering sadness over his rebuffed attempt to return to the Astros in 2011 after his brief-time unhappy trade to the New York Yankees late in 2010. To be accurate, it wasn’t so much unhappiness over the New York deal that generated the trauma, but his poor performance and problems of fitting into the Yankee club and fan culture that awaited him.
St. Louis in 2011 was an altogether different ride for Berkman. Manager Tony LaRussa and the St. Louis baseball community welcomed the addition of long-time enemy and nemesis Lance Berkman with welcome arms. And Lance responded by finding all kinds of gas still left his tank for play at a high level of accomplishment. He fit in with the Cardinals and he loves the team and town that gave him the chance for a World Series ring as a winner.
And Lance Berkman did it all without alienating the Houston fans who continue to embrace him as a member of the Astros family, even though he currently is under contract to play another season for St. Louis.
New Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, who shared the Cardinals with Berkman as an employer in 2011, cracked to Lance from the dais that he hoped the ex-Astro played his age in 2012. Berkman laughed, but nobody laughed it off that Lance Berkman could also be back with the Astros someday, once the Astros move to the American League in 2013.
The club is going to need a good designated hitter in 2013. And it would be OK with just about everyone I can think of if that very important new position could be filled by one of the whole city’s favorite Astros of all time.