Most Houston players enjoy their careers playing mostly out of the national spotlight, but judging by the overwhelming support Lance Berkman received during the All-Star Game voting period, fans from all markets have clearly noticed the season he's having.
Berkman will be the National League's starting first baseman at the 79th All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium after running away with the fans' vote total for the first time in his career.
"That's just a great honor," Berkman said. "For sure, when you look at the National League first basemen, it takes a pretty special half a season to get it done. I'm just honored the fans chose me to start."
The Astros will be well represented at Yankee Stadium on July 15. Miguel Tejada was voted in as a reserve by the players' vote after he finished behind Florida's Hanley Ramirez in fan voting.
And outfielder Carlos Lee is one of five National Leaguers eligible to make the team as the winner of the 2008 Monster All-Star Game Final Vote, which will be decided by fans online at MLB.com.
"It's always more fun when you have teammates there," Berkman said. "Taking nothing away from the two Cubs outfielders, [Kosuke Fukodome and Alfonso Soriano], Carlos deserves to start ahead of either one of those guys. I'd like to see him in the game."
The 79th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage that will also be available on XM Satellite Radio, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage.
Berkman and Jeff Kent started the All-Star Game at first base and second base, respectively, in Houston in 2004, but Berkman received the honor after Ken Griffey Jr. dropped out because of an injury. Never before has Berkman been voted in by the fans, which is understandable, considering that he plays the same position as fan favorite and perennial All-Star Albert Pujols.
This will be Berkman's fifth All-Star appearance. He was selected by either the NL manager or his peers in 2001, '02, '04 and '06.
This will also be Tejada's fifth All-Star Game. He participated in the Midsummer Classic in 2002, '04, '05 and '06.
"I'm really honored to be selected to the All-Star team," Tejada said. "Making the All-Star team is special, no matter where the game is. It would be special this year, because it's the last year at Yankee Stadium. The All-Star Game is exciting."
All of Berkman's All-Star appearances were justified, based on the spectacular numbers he's put up year after year. But this season could turn out to be just a bit more extraordinary, which makes his All-Star starting nod that much more fitting.
Through Sunday's game, Berkman had a .349 batting average, ranked as the third-highest mark in the first half in club history. He also holds the record after hitting .365 in the first half of 2001. The Puma has scored an NL-best 74 runs this year, and he is tied for third in the league with 22 home runs.
Berkman produced unprecedented numbers in May, which earned him Player of the Month honors and helped to guide the Astros through their only winning month so far this season. He hit a Major League-best .471 that month, with nine homers and 22 RBIs. He set club records with 89 total bases and 31 runs scored, and during his season-long hitting streak from April 30-May 18, he hit .545, logging 36 hits in 66 at-bats.
Among switch-hitters, Berkman's nine consecutive seasons with 20-plus homers is tied with Eddie Murray for the third-longest run in history. The two are behind only Chipper Jones (13) and Mickey Mantle (11).
The 32-year-old Texas native has been an All-Star in five of his eight full seasons in the big leagues. He has a chance to follow in the footsteps of Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio and play his entire Major League career with the Astros, and he could shatter most of the offensive records currently owned by the two Houston icons.
Berkman signed a six-year contract extension prior to the 2005 season that will keep him in an Astros uniform at least through the '10 season.
Berkman is signed on to participate in the State Farm Home Run Derby on July 14, and he hopes Lee will join him. Tejada said he has not been approached to participate, but he will if asked.
"Oh, yeah," Tejada said. "If they ask me and I'm able to do it, I'll do it. I've already done it two or three times already."
The switch-hitting Berkman hasn't decided if he'll hit from the right or left side. In 2004, he hit right-handed, partly because he wanted to aim for the short left-field porch at Minute Maid Park, but also because he didn't want to mess up his left-handed swing, as he suspects he may have done during the Derby in '02.
"[I'll] probably [hit] right," Berkman said. "But I might switch back and forth, every other pitch."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.