Berkman hopes to follow Biggio
First baseman assumes mantle of '07 Clemente winner
HOUSTON -- When the Jeff Bagwell-Craig Biggio era ended in Houston, the reins were handed over to someone who had already established himself as a face of the franchise years earlier.
Lance Berkman, a five-time All-Star, has always had a presence in the Astros' clubhouse as a bonafide superstar player. But even with his early successes, he absorbed a great deal of knowledge from his iconic predecessors, and this year, he'll follow in the footsteps of Biggio as the Astros' nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, presented by Chevrolet. Biggio won the award in 2007, just after he retired from baseball.
A home-grown product in his 10th Major League season, Berkman has developed into the team leader that Bagwell and Biggio once were. His commitment to the organization and to the Houston community year in and year out is the reason why the Astros have selected him as the team's nominee.
The Clemente Award recognizes the player who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team. It is named in honor of the former Pirates outfielder whose spirit and goodwill will always be remembered. Clemente died in a plane crash while attempting to transport relief supplies to earthquake-stricken Nicaragua on Dec. 31, 1972.
Fans can participate in the selection process of the overall winner of the award now through Oct. 5. The fan ballot winner will be tallied as one vote among those cast by a special selection panel of baseball dignitaries and media members. The panel includes MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and Vera Clemente, widow of the Pirates' Hall of Fame right fielder. The winner will be announced during the World Series.
This season marks the eighth for "Berkman's Bunch," where Berkman hosts approximately 50 children prior to each Saturday home game, provides them with tickets to the game and gives them an opportunity for one-on-one interaction with the first baseman.
The program is designed to give children from the Houston area a chance to attend an Astros game and experience baseball in a personal way. Many of the Berkman's Bunch kids are less fortunate children who otherwise may not have an opportunity to attend an Astros game and are chosen from a variety of organizations by The Methodist Hospital System and Berkman. From 2000-2008, approximately 4,000 children have participated in Berkman's Bunch.
One particularly poignant example to illustrate Berkman's generosity occurred during batting practice before a game in July, when Berkman took extra time to meet with Andrew Horn, a young man dying from brain cancer. Horn's final wish was to meet Berkman and, in the words of his family, "Andrew was having a rough night, but he was aware of what was going on and was really excited when Lance came up and spent time with him." Horn passed away a few days later.
Other instances of his generosity and giving spirit over the years include: financially supporting, with a $100,000 donation, the Yellowstone Academy, a private, Christ-centered school serving exclusively children from low-income families; making personal appearances to visit patients and employees of local hospitals; and supporting the Sunshine Kids -- a support group for kids with cancer and their families -- by visiting and signing autographs on their ballpark visits.
Berkman also regularly participates in the Astros' winter caravans, where he and teammates visit schools, hospitals and malls, signing autographs, taking photos and interacting with Astros fans. Berkman serves as the spokesperson for The Methodist Hospital Stroke Research program, and he also hosts a holiday party for families at the Fort Bend County Women's Center, where he reads stories to kids and hands out gifts.
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.