HOUSTON -- Believe it or not, Lance Berkman was actually a little hesitant to participate in the Century 21 Home Run Derby on Monday night at Minute Maid Park.
Remembering how he hit only one home run in his first Derby two years ago in Milwaukee, Berkman did not want to embarrass himself in front of the hometown crowd at Minute Maid Park.
But Berkman, who was named as a Derby replacement for Ken Griffey Jr. one day earlier, turned into the story of the night as he made it all the way to the final round with some of the longest home runs ever hit in the history of the All-Star Home Run Derby.
He launched seven home runs in the first round, but it was the 10 he hit in the second phase of the evening that whipped the crowd of 41,754 into a frenzy.
The first hit the All-Star Game sign that sits high atop the railroad tracks in left-center. Estimated distance: 459 feet.
His eighth and ninth bounced off the tracks and then left the building.
But his fourth (459 feet), fifth (473) and sixth (473) left the building completely, and his 10th not only cleared the tracks, but also marked the sixth-longest in Home Run Derby history at 493 feet.
Berkman felt the crowd's energy as he sailed through that round.
"That second round, I just got into a nice groove," he said. "That second round was really neat to be able to perform in front of the home crowd. The support they gave us was just tremendous.
"I think I hit three out of the stadium in a row and after that third one, I thought, 'Man, that's pretty cool.' The fans were going nuts and I felt like I was in a good groove. All I can say is that it was a very exciting, gratifying experience."
And he finally feels like he redeemed himself from his Derby appearance in '02.
"Really, in a situation like this, a player feels like -- and it may not be true, because the fans appreciate all efforts -- but you feel like the only thing you can do is embarrass yourself," he said. "You basically have nothing to gain and everything to lose. If you go out there and you don't hit any home runs, what in the world, you're out there and a Major League Baseball player can't hit one home run?"
Hence, the hesitation. But then, he got a little perspective.
"I said, 'You know what?' Even if the worst thing possible happens, you take 10 swings and fall on your back on every one of them, the chance to get to participate in something like this, 20 years from now, no one's even going to remember who was in there, much less how I did, except me. It's going to be something to look back on, and I enjoyed it."
Lance Berkman / LF
Weight: 220 lbs
Bats: S / Throws: L
Even if he didn't win it. In the end, Miguel Tejada prevailed, breaking the Home Run Derby record with 27 home runs. Berkman placed second with 21.
He did it batting right-handed, which is considered the switch-hitter's weaker side.
But Berkman had reasons for his choice to hit right-handed. First, the obvious: it's only 315 feet down the left-field line, the shortest distance in the park.
But Berkman also remembered that his last Home Run Derby appearance had a negative effect on him in the second half of the 2002 season, a mistake he vowed not to repeat.
"I went into the [Derby] on a hitting streak and feeling great at the plate left-handed," he said. "Then I did the Derby and came out of the All-Star break and felt awful. My swing got long and I felt like I was trying to hit home runs in the regular season."
Hitting right-handed is less of a concern, because that swing, which Berkman compared to that of a lumberjack, does not change, regardless of whether he's in a game, taking batting practice or hitting at an exhibition home run-hitting contest.
Berkman emphasized that just because he hit so well off a right-hander -- Astros bullpen coach Mark Bailey -- does not mean he's going to start hitting right-handed against righties during a regular-season game.
"This is just a little faster than a softball pitch," Berkman said. "There's no one out there throwing 95 [mph] with a nasty slider. If I stepped into the box against someone like that, I'd have no chance."
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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