Berkman has plan for HR Derby
Astros slugger to swing from left side at spacious PNC Park
HOUSTON -- Who's going to win this season's CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby on ESPN?
A left-handed hitter, of course. Well, that's the belief of Derby participant Lance Berkman of the Astros.
"[PNC Park] is more beneficial to left-handed hitters than to right-handed hitters," Berkman said, "because it's really big in left field there."
He's right. PNC Park is slightly shorter down the right-field line (320 feet) than it is down the left-field line (325). Yet the biggest difference is between right-center and left-center.
Berkman could line a home run to right-center at about 375 feet. To left-center, the distance from home plate ranges anywhere from 389 to 410 feet.
For Berkman, a switch-hitter, the ballpark's design has convinced him to bat left-handed Monday. Still, he's not claiming a first Derby victory just yet.
"One thing you have to realize about the Home Run Derby is that it looks easy, like the guy's just lobbing it in there," Berkman said. "But you still have to get a good pitch to hit."
Berkman only hit one pitch over the outfield wall in 2002, when he participated in the Home Run Derby at Milwaukee's Miller Park. In '04, he had better luck and hammered 21 baseballs into the seats at Houston's Minute Maid Park.
Seventeen of those homers came over the first two rounds before Berkman met Miguel Tejada of the Orioles in the finals. By then, Berkman was gassed.
"It was tiring," Berkman said. "I felt like I was chopping firewood. You just take so many swings and I was definitely huffin' and puffin' at the end of that thing."
Now, Berkman knows what to expect. That doesn't necessarily mean he has a blueprint for winning this, his third Derby, but he knows to pace himself.
"It's not some random [thing where you] go up there and see how many home runs you can hit," Berkman said. "Even though it is batting practice, you still need to get a pitch. A guy who's not throwing hard -- if he throws it away from you, down-and-away or down -- it's hard to elevate a pitch like that. You're looking to put some air under the ball."
Berkman shouldn't have a problem getting the pitches he wants, because Astros bullpen coach Mark Bailey, who throws everyday batting practice to him, will be tossing to Berkman in the Derby.
Other contestants have the option to bring their pitcher of choice. Some may. Others may not. So, perhaps having Bailey plays in Berkman's favor.
Then again, maybe the pitcher is really a non-factor. For it's the hitter who has to stroke pitches out of the park, and there's plenty of capable sluggers in this season's Derby.
"I think [Phillies first baseman Ryan] Howard has a great chance," Berkman said. "I think [Red Sox designated hitter] David Ortiz has a great chance. I think it's going to be a left-handed hitter -- depending on how the ball's carrying -- but I think it's going to be tough for a right-handed hitter to win it because the porch is a lot closer in right field than left."
Kevin Yanik is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.