- By Ollie Walden
Along with the St. Louis Cardinals run towards another pennant and hopeful World Series berth this season is the story of Lance Berkman or a player that is also known by his nickname, The Big Puma. Lance is a left handed, 6 foot 1, 220 pound switch hitting machine from Waco, Texas that came up playing for his home state Rice Universty Owls in the late 1990s. In fact, Lance was chosen as the 1997 National College Player of the Year after hitting 41 Home runs during that season (which was ranked 3rd most in NCAA history at the time) and leading his Rice Owls to their first ever College World Series berth. Lance went on to be drafted by the home state Houston Astros and came up playing for the Astros during a high point in franchise history.
Lance Berkman tore through the minor leagues quickly and made his Major League Debut on July 16, 1999. Houstons first base postion was taken at the time so, Lance broke into the lineup playing all three outfield postions, but mainly was the Astros starting left fielder. Houston had several great players at the time, which all had a first or last name that began with the letter "B'. Thus, the nickname the Killer B's was born.
Lance Berkman was a part of this group along with Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Brad Ausmus and Carlos Beltran. Lance Berkman is a six time National League All- Star having been selected an All- Star in the 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2011 seasons. Lance and the Killer B's along with pitcher Roger Clemens reached a peak together druing the 2005 season when they led the Houston Astros to the first ever World Series appearance in the team's history, but ultimately they fell four games to none against the Chicago White Sox.
Lance's statistical numbers continued to rise throughout his years in Houston until 2008 and by the trade deadline of the 2010 season the Astros decided to trade Berkman to the New York Yankees. Lance's batting average during that 2010 season had dropped to a lowly .248 and the Big Puma had only connected on 14 home runs. The New York Yankees decided to not exercise the option on Lance's contract and he became a free agent. Lance signed with the St. Louis Cardinals organization for one season and the Big Puma has landed on his feet in St. Louis where, since the end of July, he is packing a strong .287 batting average and has connected on 28 home runs (already double his last season's number) while only striking our 61 times in 317 plate appearances.
With St. Louis hero Albert pujols seeing some time this season on the disabled list. Lance has helped lead the charge at the plate and keep the Cardinals right in the thick of the race for the National League Central title. We will all sit back and witness how this season plays out for Lance and the Cardinals organization, but Lance has already proven his name should be right at the top of the list for this season comeback player of the year.