ST. LOUIS — Lance Berkman was born, raised and resides in Texas so he looks right at home in a Texas Rangers uniform. But there is no doubt part of his heart remains with the Cardinals.
This was obvious from watching Berkman hold court with his ex-teammates behind the batting cage Friday before the Rangers and Cardinals started their three-game series at Busch Stadium. He was treated like a family member who returned home as player after player came over for a hug. As he joked with several, Matt Holliday came up from behind, wrapped his arms around him and lifted him about two feet off the ground. A bear bug for a brother.
“It’s kind of like the first day of school when you get to see all your friends you haven’t seen in a while,” Berkman said.
Berkman is expected to be limited to pinch-hitting this weekend, partly because of knee and “general body soreness” (he had a cortisone shot Thursday) and partly because the DH doesn’t play in St. Louis. Manager Ron Washington, however, did not rule out giving Berkman a start at first on Saturday or Sunday. Berkman was hitting .311 on May 19 but a 17-for-91 (.187) skid has dropped his average to .260 to go along with six homers and 33 RBIs.
Regardless of how many at-bats he gets this weekend, Berkman sounded happy just to be back. Though he spent many more years with the Astros, he said coming back to St. Louis was far more fun than returning to Houston after he had hooked on with the Cardinals.
“When I went back to the Astros, it was more of an antagonistic feel, where I felt like things didn’t go well there at the end,” he said. “This feels more like a homecoming, where it’s just a great feeling to be here and reconnect with some of the guys I’ve played with.”
But will they become enemies once the first pitch is thrown?
“More like brothers that you really want to beat in a game of one-on-one in the driveway,” Berkman said.
As you would expect for someone known almost as much for his wisecracking as his 366 career homers and .294 batting average, Berkman hasn’t been shy giving grief to his new teammates about falling to St. Louis in the 2011 World Series.
“I try to get in a good dig at least once a week on somebody about it,” he said. “Maybe once every two weeks, it just depends on the mood of the team. You don’t bring something like that up unless things are going well. We’ve been through a little lull here recently so I haven’t mentioned it for a while.”
Berkman didn’t hesitate to bring it up when manager Ron Washington was holding a meeting on the first day of spring training. As Washington talked about getting back to the World Series, he started listing his players who already had been through the experience.
“He said (Ian) Kinsler, you’ve been through the war,” Berkman said. “(David) Murphy, you’ve been through the war. Berkman, you’ve been through the war. I was like, ‘We won that war, Wash.'”
On another occasion, Berkman said he asked Murphy “if the clubhouse was graveyard quiet after Game 6 or if it was more quiet after Game 7.”
Murphy’s reply: “He told me to quit talking,” Berkman said.
Berkman tends to be a little more discreet around third baseman Adrian Beltre. “He is not amused at all,” Berkman said.
Asked if the players return the ribbing, Berkman replied with a snicker, “What are they going to give back?”
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.