Saturday, March 24, 2012

Puma on the Prowl for Houston

"I feel basically like the commissioner extorted Jim Crane into moving the Astros." - Lance Berkman

I have been itching to write on this subject for several days now. I've always appreciated Berkman's candid responses to questions, and his self-deprecating humor. Baseball is sorely lacking players who both speak their mind, and don't take themselves too seriously. Lance was a fan favorite while crushing baseballs from both sides of the plate and constantly producing during the Astros most successful decade in their history, but little did we know his Houston legacy would be cemented while playing for the hated Cardinals.

Back in November I wrote an article for asking who would be the DH for Astros fans. Little did I know four months later that the DH who would step up to bat for the city of Houston would be a current St. Louis Cardinal! What Berkman said was what we as Astros fans have been trying to convey (all while being drowned out by our apparent East Coast transplanted Houston media). Moving a team that has been in the NL for 50 years is unfair and it sucks! We didn't have a say in it, and we've been told at every turn to shut our mouths and enjoy it (because, after all, the great Yankees, Red Sox, and Rangers play in this new superior league!). But Lance Berkman has a much bigger pedestal than some dinky blog that a few dozen people read. He was able to express the outrage of what happened to OUR team in a way that got the attention of the heavy hitters. As Andy from  The Houston Sports Counterplot likes to say....the Puma will #DefendHouston, and for that, Astros fans will never forget him.

Had Lance stopped right there and left his comments about Darth Selig and MLB speak for themselves, he would have solidified his place in Houston lore, but he went on this week to make the rounds on Houston radio sounding like someone who was trying to run for mayor of Astro Nation. I heard him interviewed on both 790 and 1560 this week, and while he toned down the "extortion" vernacular (he was probably threatened by Selig's henchmen), he continued to defend his position that the Astros fans (himself as a Houstonian included) had received a raw deal from MLB. He was also asked about the best all-around players he's played with. I'm sure Richard Justice and the rest of the baseball "know-it-alls" would expect Puma to wax poetic for 30 minutes about the great Albert Pooholes (a recognized villain in Houston), but instead Lance didn't skip a beat by naming Jeff Bagwell the best all around player he's played with. GASP! You could hear the outrage from Bristol! Surely Pooholes was second right? NO! He then quickly added that Craig Biggio would come in a close second. I am not ashamed to admit that I have never had feelings for another man quite like I did for Puma at that moment.

On Tuesday I joked that Crane should immediately erect a giant Puma statue in front of MMP, but is it really that far fetched? Lance was already beloved by Astros fans. A hometown hero from Rice whose outspoken honesty was a welcome departure from the ho hum daily detachment of Biggio and Bagwell. Jimmy Wynn's jersey is retired (rightfully so), but in one more season Puma racked up 103 more HR's and 371 more RBI's! He holds the single season records for extra base hits and RBI's. No decade in Astros history was as successful as the one Puma played in. And now, we find out that more than anybody else associated with the team, Lance Berkman cares deeply about our beloved franchise. Last season I took a picture with my newborn son and 4 year-old daughter next to the Biggio/Bagwell statues behind the Crawford Boxes. I look forward to telling them how their Dad got to see Biggio's 3000th hit in person, and the magical MVP season Bagwell had in 1994. But rest assured, I will also tell them about one of the greatest switch hitters of all-time, who not only played on our first ever World Series team, but who loved our franchise long after he left. Thank you Lance Berkman. Houston will not forget how you stood up for us.

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