Puma arrives, stoked by team's new look
Astros slugger ready to put tough '09 in rearview mirror
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Season No. 12 for Lance Berkman began a little after 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday, when the Astros slugger strolled into Osceola County Stadium to regain a feel for the place before the first full-squad workout commences on Wednesday.
The clean-shaven Berkman was greeted by new expectations, some fresh clubhouse faces -- including a new manager -- and the desire to undo what ended up being a down 2009 season for him and his team.
Once again, Big Puma is looking forward to the challenge.
"Here we go again," Berkman said. "I know it's a long road, and the first part of camp is always exciting, getting to meet some of the new guys. We've had so much roster turnover, I feel like a new guy. So you have to go in there, get acquainted with the coaching staff and everybody. But it's exciting."
The 34-year-old switch-hitter finished '09 batting .274 with 25 homers and 80 RBIs while being limited to 136 games. That batting average was his lowest since playing in 34 games during his first season in 1999, while the homer run total was his lowest since '05 and the RBIs were the fewest since his official rookie year in 2000.
On top of that, the Astros, by whom Berkman is counted on as a leader, finished in fifth place and 17 games out of first place in the National League Central last season.
"Obviously, last year was not a good year on a number of different levels, but I'm trying to just look at this year as a new, clean slate," Berkman said. "One thing that [Jeff] Bagwell told me that's always stuck with me is, 'Every year is different.' You can't base what happened last year on what happened this year, either good or bad."
Going into the 2010 season, the Astros have replaced Jose Valverde and LaTroy Hawkins with Brandon Lyon and Matt Lindstrom at the back end of the bullpen. They added Brett Myers to the starting rotation. They replaced perennial All-Star shortstop Miguel Tejada with slick-fielding prospect Tommy Manzella. And they added solid defensive third baseman Pedro Feliz.
"I think we're going to be probably a little better defensively than we were, and I'm intrigued by our pitching staff," Berkman said. "I think our starting pitching has a chance to be really good."
More than anything, Berkman said he's "just looking forward to getting back on the field." Because like no other time of year, spring brings profound optimism and a clean slate.
That's a welcomed mentality for a player like Berkman, who saw wrist, calf and back injuries limit his time on the field last season.
"I just want to stay on the field," Berkman said. "That's the main thing. The other side of that is we were pretty bad. We had a bad record and didn't play well. So this year will be better."
Astros fans certainly hope so.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.