This is just the opener of a longer essay about keeping one’s cool. But it conveys well what makes Lance Berkman, who played brilliantly for the Astros for years (and next door to my childhood home, at Rice University, before that), and who finally got his ring last year, such a splendid player. Like Roy Oswalt, the pitcher he played with in Houston, he has long been one of the best but most underrated players in the majors. Here’s why:
In game six of last year’s World Series, with the Texas Rangers one strike away from clinching the franchise’s first championship, Lance Berkman, the St. Louis Cardinals’ aged first baseman whose thick physique and round face had earned him the nickname “Fat Elvis,” lined an inside fastball into shallow right-center, plating the tying run from second base. Even though he had just fulfilled the childhood fantasy of nearly everyone playing and watching the game that night by rescuing his team from World Series defeat, Berkman betrayed little emotion. Instead, he stoically slipped off his batting gloves and leaned in to listen to the instructions of the first-base coach, as if it were yet another humdrum hit in his distinguished career.
Until David Freese lofted a walk-off home run to center in the eleventh inning, Berkman remained in a state of what appeared to be Zen-like empty-headedness, his posture relaxed but attentive, his expressions varying little with each pendulous momentum shift. It was as though he were the only person in Busch Stadium who failed to comprehend the magnitude of the moment. When asked afterward what he was thinking about during his do-or-die at-bat in the tenth inning, Berkman simply replied, “Nothing.”