Mailbag: Berkman the 'Big Puma?'
Beat reporter Alyson Footer answers Astros fans' questions
I'm probably the only person in Houston who doesn't know this, but why is Lance Berkman called the "Big Puma?" What other nicknames does he have?
-- Cindy S., Houston
Some of Berkman's teammates call him "L.B.," but it was the "Fat Elvis" label that moved him to come up with a new nickname. Understandably, Berkman was none too thrilled that the "Fat Elvis" name caught on, especially among fans in other cities. So, he decided to change the trend, and came up with his own nickname -- "Big Puma."
Berkman's a semi-regular on the morning show on SportsRadio 610 AM, and he started injecting the "Big Puma" name as much as possible. It's starting to catch on, and I'm fairly certain Berkman is one of the few players who has ever given himself a nickname.
Why Puma? To Berkman, it's just simply logical: "Agile, athletic, sleek ... all the things that describe my game," he said, somewhat tongue-in-cheek.
Has anyone else noticed that Preston Wilson has heated up since he was released by the Astros? Why is it that players heat up when they leave the Astros?
-- Blake M., Washington D.C.
I'd hardly consider a .225 average a hot streak, although Wilson has hit five home runs since signing with the Cardinals in mid-August. Through Sunday's game, he has 16 hits in 71 at-bats for St. Louis. That's not going to get you any votes in the Most Valuable Player race.
That said, players often will go on a hot streak once they join a new team. Call it a change of scenery, a second chance, whatever. It happens. Richard Hidalgo came out like gangbusters when the Astros shipped him to the Mets a couple of years ago, but soon came back down to earth and put up his usual poor numbers.
However, I can see Wilson having a good stretch with a good team. In St. Louis, he's just another player among a group of very good hitters. In Houston, he was expected to really, really impact the lineup, and maybe that was too much pressure for him.
I see the Astros are going after a big bat in the offseason. Do they plan on going after one big bat or two? I don't think one big bat will solve any problems. How many bats do you think the Astros should go after?
-- Shane J., Houston
Seven. Of course, that's not remotely realistic, so let's shoot for one. If they can get one impact bat, that will have a positive effect on those he's hitting behind (in other words: Berkman). It's not realistic to believe the Astros are going to have the funds to sign two high-level free agents to monstrous contracts. That's not going to happen. But if they can get one -- say, for example, Carlos Lee, that's a step in the right direction. And I still believe in Aubrey Huff, even though his numbers haven't been so great.
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Does the Astros organization still view Chris Burke as a potential Major League starting-position player? I'm no longer sure about it myself, which is surprising, considering the obvious talent and skills he's displayed over the past year.
-- Chris O.
Burke is most definitely a future starting-second baseman. He'll take over for Craig Biggio, eventually. Until then, he's going to have to play other positions and not count on a starting job. It's just the way it is.
Will Roger Clemens possibly return for the 2007 season?
-- Karen D.
There is always a chance "Rocket" will return. Before he came down with his most recent ailment, I felt pretty certain he'd be back. Now, I'm not so sure. But if he's healthy, I do believe he'll strongly consider a return.
Why don't the Astros take a break for the next two or three years and rebuild the team and the farm system? I for one am all for it. I am OK with not seeing the playoffs for a few more years, if we can put together a roster, both in the Majors and Minors, that will set us up for another seven or eight years.
-- Scott R.
You might be OK with not seeing the Astros in the playoffs, but Astros owner Drayton McLane would not. I don't think McLane will ever allow that to happen. We see other teams do it, and they're back in contention in three to four years, but McLane loves winning too much to break down the team and start over. He's a win-now type of owner, and the Astros are not in rebuilding mode as much as they're focused on re-tooling.
Do you think that the Astros will make a run at the Wild Card or do you think that it's too late for them? And if they do make the playoffs, will they be serious contenders?
-- Andrew D., Houston
It's never too late, as long as they're within striking distance of the lead in either the Wild Card or Division race. The fact that they're still in contention is more of a reflection on the poor state of the National League than on the Astros' ability to win games. The Astros are two games under .500 and in any other season, they would be done. But since no one else in the league is doing anything relatively impressive, the Astros are still in it.
Should they make the playoffs, I don't have a lot of confidence in their chances. Yes, pitching and defense wins championships, but you do have to hit the ball every once in a while, too.
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.