Lance Berkman returns to Minute Maid Park tonight for the first time since the Astros traded him before the 2010 trade deadline. He will be wearing a St. Louis Cardinals uniform, which for an Astro fan is the equivalent of Luke Skywalker showing up at the Jedi Temple in stormtrooper armor. The prodigal son has gone over to the dark side!
And he's boys with Darth Pujols! The horror!
For a city whose only real success sports-wise the last 15 years was the Astros' run to the 2005 World Series (of which Berkman was front and center), this is a very emotional issue.
The fact that the Big Puma is hitting .377 with six home runs in 19 games only exacerbates things. In fact, it's making people downright ornery.
It doesn't take 20/15 vision to see that Lance Berkman's body type has changed since last season. Now, most of the time when we are discussing "body type changes" for rejuvenated baseball players in their mid-30's, it means that the player in question has gone from a string bean to a cucumber. They've gotten bigger, especially in the cranial region.
Puma's transformation is the opposite. At the end of his time with the Astros, he wasn't out of shape, but he didn't look like he was totally in shape, either. To be fair, it doesn't help that Lance always looks like he's storing nuts for the winter in both cheeks. He is what they call jowly.
Now, fully rejuvenated in the Gateway City, Berkman is sleeker, he is quicker, he is thinner. He's not ready to steal 50 bases, but at the same time, the name Puma has never been less ironic. Basically, he looks good.
Somewhat understandably, this has some Astros fans feeling a tad jilted. I guess I get it. I mean, imagine if you dated someone for 12 years. The first eight years were amazing, she kept herself in incredible shape, turned heads everywhere, and was up for anything -- ANYTHING -- at any time. It was the best of times.
And then gradually over the final four years, she slowly added five to ten avoidable pounds each year, and by the end of year 12 she really had no drive left to want to do anything with you. And frankly, nor did you with her. You were tired of everything about her. She moved to New York, and you were done with her.
The weird thing is your life didn't really get much better after she was gone. The only real reason you had to wake up each day was the hope that it may get better. (And the chance to make fun of the fat guy two doors down. Name's Carlos. There's that, too.) To make matters worse, you actually ran into your old girlfriend downtown recently. Turns out she's moved from New York to St. Louis, and she looks even better than she did in the best years you guys had together. On top of that, she's dating the guy who used to beat the shit out of you routinely on the playground back in the day! (Name's Albert.)
I mean, wouldn't you be fucking pissed? Of course you would.
Of course, like any relationship, it cuts both ways. The fact of the matter is maybe you were a big part of the problem, a big reason why she seemed to lose interest those last four years.
Now, if this whole scenario went down, the last thing you'd want is your senile, curmudgeonly octogenarian grandfather to begin spouting off on your behalf, but that's exactly what happened this week when Milo Hamilton appeared on the "Matt and Adam in the Morning" show on 790.
Milo wound up as hard as his 83 years would let him, and cut loose with this gem:
I want to know, if a guy gave you $85 million, and that's what Drayton did in the last contract...and he said, 'This is your team,' and he said that...wasn't in his persona, to be a leader. Yet last night, Tony LaRussa -- when asked about Berkman -- 'He's now the leader on this team, he is the inspiration to the older players, he goes around and inspires the younger players," and he got in excellent shape by hiring a trainer.
If he had done that the last couple of years that he was here, guys, he could have finished out a really fine career in Houston if he had given it that same dedication. I just want a simple answer -- why did you think it wasn't necessary to get in shape your last couple of years as an Astro, but now for team you didn't even know, a manager you never played for, you felt it was your responsibility to get in great shape?
Now, that's the world according to Milo. The facts on Berkman were laid out this morning and afternoon on 1560 The Game by Danny Arnold, the acclaimed personal trainer who runs the Plex facility and trains dozens of professional athletes, present and future, including one Lance Berkman.
You can listen to the entire interviews on the 1560 Web site; Danny called into John and Lance's show in the morning and my show during midday, and he completely refutes Milo's assertion and gives the facts about:
-- Lance's years with Danny as a personal trainer (This was not Lance's first year with a personal trainer; he's been with Danny for four years.)
-- Lance's work ethic (He has a tremendous work ethic.)
-- Lance's change in body type (He wasn't working out less but was doing a lot more work geared toward cardio because he's getting older and he's had knee injuries. Less weight is a good thing, in that case.)
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-- Milo being an idiot (He is one.)
So there you have it, Houston. In the "it's not you, it's me" department for this fractured relationship -- well, it's not Lance, it's you. Get over it.
And if you're going to the game tonight, when Lance Berkman comes to the plate, look around at the 30 rows of empty seats in every direction and remember the good times.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from noon to 3 p.m. weekdays and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.