Berkman gives credit to his father

Berkman gives credit to his father

HOUSTON -- For many young baseball players, reaching the Major Leagues is a dream. They would be thrilled with reaching the big leagues, but they acknowledge the long odds and prepare for something else.

But for the Astros' Lance Berkman, those odds never seemed that daunting. Before he even entered grade school, he knew he would be a professional baseball player, and was willing to make all the effort and sacrifices it took to make that a reality.

For that, he has one specific person to thank as Father's Day approaches: his dad, Larry Berkman.

"I don't think there's any doubt that my dad wanted me to be a baseball player growing up," Berkman said. "He took me out in the back yard as early as 3 or 4 years old and was pitching to me. That was his goal from day one. He was the one that taught me how to play the game, how to swing, and I owe a lot of my career to my dad."

To overcome the long odds of reaching the Majors, however, it takes more than merely swinging the bat at a young age. For most, it takes an intense amount of dedication to the craft, a work ethic that Berkman also credits to his father. Larry Berkman, a sports attorney based out of New Braunfels, Texas, who at one point counted his son among his clients, played baseball at the University of Texas and coached many of his son's youth-league teams. As a result, he had the background in the game to help his son at a young age.

When Berkman was about 5, his dad noticed his son had an odd combination of skills. He threw with his left hand, but hit with his right. From there, the idea of making Berkman a switch-hitter was born. His dad hung an old tire in the backyard for Lance to swing at from both sides, strengthening his muscles and giving him the foundation to hit left-handed. When he was 7and joined his first youth-league team, his dad forced him to take one at-bat left-handed and one at-bat right-handed, and he continued that emphasis until Berkman reached high school, at which point he batted the opposite of the pitcher.

Even though many of his teammates wanted Berkman to bat right-handed in key spots, since it was his dominant side, he and his dad were dedicated to learning the craft of switch-hitting and he continued the ritual regardless.

Midway through that ritual, when Berkman reached the age of 9, his father put a tee in the garage and required him each night to hit 50 times from the left side and 50 from the right side.

Years later, that dedication has certainly paid off. Given that most Major League pitchers are right-handed, Berkman takes most of his swings from the left side. And over the course of his eight-year career, he's actually been a better hitter left-handed.

But to Berkman, his dad's influence in baseball is only a small part of what makes him so special.

"My dad is my hero," he said. "I think so much of him. He's just got tremendous moral values, and he's just a wonderful person and somebody who's very comforting to be around. He's very soothing when he talks to you. He's helped me a lot mentally when I get into a slump. I think a lot of him, and I wish everyone was fortunate enough to have a dad like mine."

Given his struggles in the early part of 2007, Berkman says he's already turned to his dad multiple times this season.

"He's been very encouraging," Berkman said. "Dad takes it sometimes harder than I do. When I don't get a hit, he gets more upset than me. I think a lot of that stems from the fact that he can't do anything about it -- he just has to watch."

One thing that makes watching easier for his dad was Berkman's good fortune of being selected by the Astros, allowing him to remain in the state and even in the same city where he played college baseball at Rice.

"When I was picked by the Astros, it was just a neat feeling to know I'd get to stay at home," Berkman said. "[Dad] has been to countless games -- he burns up I-10 between New Braunfels and here. So it's good to play here and be close so he can come and enjoy my career and watch me play."

With Jeff Bagwell leaving the clubhouse after the 2005 season, Berkman is one of several long-time Astros -- including Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge -- to transition into something of a leadership role based on their ability. Not surprisingly, he credits his dad with giving him the life lessons to excel at that task.

"He's someone I've learned through by example more than anything else, particularly with his honesty," Berkman said.

"One thing about Dad is that he's not a man of many words. He's not very charming. He's not necessarily a guy that will walk up and take the floor and talk a bunch. But the way he lives is an example to a lot of people. He's a true gentleman. He's got a lot of people that look up to him and the way he carries himself. A lot of times actions speak louder than words, and he's a guy that certainly lives that out."

Ben DuBose is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.