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Astros hold annual banquet

Astros hold annual banquet

HOUSTON -- Lance Berkman, the closing act at the annual baseball awards banquet Thursday night, began his speech by giving a recount of his wife's first meeting with one of the evening's honorees.

Cara Berkman had accompanied her husband on an Astros road trip last year, and after meeting up with him after a game said, "I just talked to one of your bat boys. He's just so cute, so nice."

"I don't think that was the bat boy," Berkman told her. "We don't travel our bat boys." Cara replied, "I'm sure he was the bat boy. Little bitty guy, really nice."

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"I said 'Honey, that's not the bat boy,'" Berkman recalled. "That's Wesley Wright."

Indeed, Wright, generously listed as 5-foot-11, often is referred to as "diminutive" and "little lefty." But the 160-pound southpaw is also the proud owner of a new piece of hardware, as the 2008 Astros Rookie of the Year.

Wright has come a long way in the last 12 months. He was new to the organization this time last year, having been selected by the club in the Rule 5 Draft and considered a long shot to make the team.

Wright ended up as a reliable arm out of the bullpen, compiling 57 strikeouts over 55 2/3 innings and showing a poise and maturity that impressed manager Cecil Cooper almost from day one of Spring Training.

"This [award] means a lot," Wright said. "This time last year I was in Double-A with the Dodgers. To be selected in the Rule 5 Draft and to be named Rookie of the Year with the Astros is an incredible honor."

The evening featured several honorees in addition to Wright: Berkman, Most Valuable Astro; Jose Valverde, Astro Pitcher of the Year; Hunter Pence, recipient of the Darryl Kile "Good Guy" Award; Dodgers first baseman James Loney, Houston Area Major League Player of the Year; Jose Cruz, Allen Russell Distinguished Achievement Award and Neil Hohlfeld, who posthumously received the Fred Hartman Long and Meritorious Service Award.

Hohlfeld, who covered the Astros for the Houston Chronicle in the 1980s and '90s and worked for the paper for 29 years, passed away from a heart attack last July. His wife, Lynne, accepted the award on behalf of her husband.

Loney, a native Houstonian and graduate of Elkins High School, provided several humorous moments, including approaching the podium to ask Berkman for an autograph just as Berkman was about to give his acceptance speech. During his speech, Loney expressed appreciation to two unlikely targets, both of which apparently helped him to curb his boredom during the long days and nights at Spring Training: "Sam Walton, for giving us those super stores, and Fox's American Idol."

The banquet, emceed by Astros radio announcer Milo Hamilton, also featured an annual salute to the All-Greater Houston Area Preseason High School team. Ryan Berry, a right-handed pitcher from Rice University, was named Houston Area Preseason Major College Player of the Year by the Houston Athletic Committee, and Bellaire High School baseball coach Rocky Manuel received the Ray Knoblauch Award as Houston Area High School Coach of the Year.

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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