Berkman likely to bat righty in Derby
Astros switch-hitter doesn't want to tinker with lefty swing
NEW YORK -- To Lance Berkman, the State Farm Home Run Derby is something like "a glorified batting-practice session," and he plans to treat it as such when he steps to the plate to put on what he hopes is a more impressive display than he provided two years ago.
That means the switch-hitting Berkman is probably going to hit right-handed so that he does not mess with the swing that provides the bulk of his home runs during regular-season games.
"I work the entire year on not pulling the ball in batting practice, left-handed," Berkman said. "So my swing is just more up the middle, up the middle, up the middle. Now, to have to all of a sudden have to pull the ball, I don't want to do that. Whereas right-handed, I naturally pull the ball anyway, so it's much easier for me to just turn it loose right-handed than it is left-handed during batting practice."
This year's Home Run Derby will take place at Yankee Stadium in New York on Monday at 7 p.m. CT. It can be seen live on MLB.com by MLB.TV and All-Star package subscribers, and on ESPN.
It will be Berkman's fourth Derby. His results have run the gamut from uneventful (2002) to spectacular ('04) to, as he puts it, "a complete non-factor," as he was in '06, when he hit three and was out after the first round.
Berkman admits now that he really had no clue what he was doing during his first Derby in Milwaukee in '02. Before he left Houston, Jeff Bagwell -- something of a Derby veteran himself -- told his young slugging teammate not to swing at every pitch.
"Which I promptly did," Berkman said.
The results weren't pretty. One home run -- as in, one and done.
Two years later, an older and much wiser Berkman was a bit more selective, using his past experiences to help him through the '04 Derby. Of course, it helped that nearly 42,000 fans packed Minute Maid Park to cheer for their hometown hero. The night, Berkman says now, is on his top 10 list of the best moments of his big league career.
Berkman launched seven home runs in the first round and 10 in the second phase. One of the home runs hit the All-Star Game sign that sat high atop the railroad tracks in left-center field, which netted an estimated distance of 459 feet. His eighth and ninth bounced off the tracks and then left the building.
Berkman came in second place, behind only current teammate Miguel Tejada, who broke the Home Run Derby record with 27 home runs. Berkman placed second with 21.
This year, the Puma will be well-armed with the standard maple bats he uses for batting practice, but he'll be without his regular Derby pitcher, Astros bullpen coach Mark "Beetle" Bailey. Berkman invited Bailey to accompany him to New York, but Bailey opted to take the three days off to be with his family in Houston.
Berkman was fine with Bailey's decision and surmised he would have one of the Rockies' coaches pitch to him instead.
"I'd much rather him have an All-Star break than have to come up there and fool with me," Berkman said. "I said, 'Look, Beetle, I want you to take a break with your family, but if you want to go to the game, I want to have you throw to me.'"
Bailey was tempted, especially since his wife, Mary Pat, is from the New York area.
"That's why I thought so strongly about it -- we have a lot of family and a lot of friends up there, but I decided to go ahead and take the break," Bailey said. "It was a tough decision. I wanted to be there for him and go there for the last [All-Star] Game [at Yankee Stadium]. But talking to my family, I decided to go ahead and take the break."
Berkman joins a pool of contestants that includes Chase Utley, Dan Uggla and Ryan Braun of the National League, and Grady Sizemore, Josh Hamilton, Evan Longoria and Justin Morneau of the American League.
Berkman jokingly said that he expects every one of his fly balls "to go out of the ballpark," but in truth, the Astros' first baseman is picking the Rangers' Hamilton, baseball's feel-good story of the summer, to win it all.
"If I were to have to pick somebody right now, I'd have to pick Josh Hamilton," Berkman said. "He would be my favorite to win it."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.