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07/02/06 8:30 PM ET

Berkman named to NL All-Star team

Astros slugger headed to fourth Midsummer Classic

ARLINGTON -- Since his Major League career began with his first full season in 2001, Lance Berkman hasn't really known what it's like to take a mid-season family vacation.

With the exception of 2003 and 2005, Berkman has been an All-Star Game mainstay, and this year is no exception. Berkman was named to the National League All-Star team by his skipper, NL manager Phil Garner, marking Berkman's fourth career All-Star appearance in his sixth big-league season.

"As far as individual honors go, it's pretty high up there," Berkman said. "Your first time's always special, but every time you make it, it's always great. I've enjoyed my experiences in the past, and I look forward to this one."

Berkman, 30, certainly is deserving of the honor. Plunked right in the middle of the heart of a struggling Astros lineup, Berkman has been as steady as advertised, hitting .314 (85-for-271) with 22 homers and 71 RBIs, entering Sunday's series finale in Arlington.

Berkman's .397 on-base percentage and .609 slugging percentage are tops on the team, and as the only Astros outfielder to have logged as many as three 30-homer seasons, it appears Berkman is on his way to a fourth.

"He's clear-cut -- there's no question about it," Garner said. "He's done very well defensively, both in the outfield and first base. Of course, he's leading the league in RBIs and he's hitting well for us."

Berkman has played a handful of games in the outfield, but he has made most of his starts at first base this year, and his defense at his infield position has been remarkably sound. A former college Player of the Year as a first baseman, Berkman was converted to an outfielder upon being drafted by the Astros in 1997.

After five years as an outfielder, Berkman moved back to his natural position this season when Jeff Bagwell went on the disabled list. Not wanting to bring, as he put it, "disgrace" to a position once held by the most revered player in Astros history, Berkman logged many extra hours of practice during Spring Training with third-base coach Doug Mansolino in order to fine-tune his skills at first base.

The hard work paid off in what has been a fine defensive season for Berkman, but it's his bat that earned him an All-Star selection, and he will head to Pittsburgh next weekend as the Astros' lone All-Star player.

"That's got to be unusual for the manager to have only one player from his team make the [All-Star] team after being in the World Series," Berkman said. "Roy [Oswalt] certainly deserves to be there -- and a couple other guys who have played well for us. I'm proud to be the representative for our team."

Berkman said he would consider participating in the CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby on ESPN on the Monday of All-Star week, but he's not begging to be chosen. PNC Park in Pittsburgh is very deep in left field, and Berkman, a switch-hitter, likely would fare better if he hits left-handed.

However, the last time Berkman hit left-handed in a Home Run Derby -- 2002 -- it threw off his swing for at least three weeks when the regular season resumed.

That's the main reason he hit right-handed in the 2004 Derby at Minute Maid Park, although it was widely assumed he did so just because of the short left-field porch at his home ballpark.

"To have a chance [at PNC Park] you have to hit left-handed, and I don't want to hit left-handed because I don't want it to mess with my swing," Berkman said. "I don't mind hitting right-handed because I don't think I could mess my right-handed swing up. That ballpark is huge in left field, so if I had to hit right-handed, I'd be at a big disadvantage."

But he could be swayed.

"If they need somebody to do it, I'm not afraid to embarrass myself and run out there," he said.

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