July 2010 Archives
The R Blog is offering Owl fans an inside chance to interview former Owl great and current Tampa Bay Ray Jeff Niemann. The R Blog will be at Tropicana Field early next week to talk to Jeff, and the bulk of the questions will come from you, the readers. Simply post your questions here in the form of a comment, and we'll ask Jeff as many as time will permit. Think of it as a not-so-live chat with one of the top young pitchers in the American League. From his days at Rice to his time as a member of the Rays' rotation, ask away! We'll sort through the questions to eliminate duplications, and we also reserve the right to toss out questions that we deem as either inappropriate or potentially hazardous to our health (remember, he's a BIG guy with a nasty heater!).
So call up your best sportswriter mojo, and post your questions.
One year ago, Jarett Dillard reported to training camp with the Jacksonville Jaguars as a fifth round draft pick with a bundle of college records and a commitment to answer the questions from professional evaluators that caused him last so late in the NFL Draft.
On Friday, Dillard will step on to the same turf at the Jags Training Center, looking to again unleash the unique set of skills he was only beginning to showcase last season before a suffering a season-ending injury in the ninth game of the season.
It was one of life's cruel twists. Dillard had just begun to prove himself in NFL action, showcasing the same magical ability to fly just a little higher, stretch a little further, pull down a seemingly overthrown pass and turn it into positive yardage for the Jags. After being inactive the first two weeks of the season, he made his first appearance on an NFL field on the same chunk of real estate where he brought his Rice career to a close, Reliant Stadium in Houston.
One week later he registered his first career catch, a 14-yard grab against Tennessee and over the next five weeks, he chalked up five more catches, the longest of which was 33-yarder against Kansas City. He was making an impression and becoming more and more of an option for Jags quarterback David Garrard, but that momentum came to a crashing halt just one week later.
Dillard hauled in a seven-yard completion against the New York Jets on November 15, but suffered an injury to his ankle when tackled and two days later he was placed on the injured reserve list, bringing his rookie year to a close.
"After I made a couple catches, I started to get more and more playing time. I was starting to come in on third downs and things were really happening for me. It was the wrong time to get injured," Dillard recalled.
With his rookie season prematurely concluded, Dillard faced an off-season filled with rehab for the first time in career. For the man who made a name for himself utilizing his 42" vertical leap to soar past defenders and once proclaimed in the heat of battle that during a game he played as if he was 11' 5", the prospect of any kind of leg injury might have been frightening.
But before he could even begin to ponder too heavily on the opportunity lost on the turf at Giants Stadium, he received a shot in the arm in the form of a visit by Garrard and Jags Offensive Coordinator Dirk Koetter to his apartment.
"They wanted me to know to keep my head up," Dillard recalled. "They wanted me to know I was not falling behind the others and that I would pick up where I left when I was healthy. That was amazing to have the starting quarterback and the OC take the time to come see me. That really put my mind at ease and made it easier to concentrate on my rehab," he added.
Dillard passed through his initial tests during OTAs with flying colors, and heads into his second year with the Jags in position to become a regular target for Garrard.
"I am much more comfortable heading into this camp, knowing that I have a place on the team," Dillard said. "The confidence I have comes from the experiences I had on the field last year and the work I put in during the spring. But I also know that I can't take anything for granted. The thing about NFL camp is the competition is intense in every drill and every play. No one can afford to take any reps off," he said.
While Dillard's focus will be squarely on his efforts in Jaguars camp, he'll also be keeping tabs on his former college triggerman, Chase Clement, who will be embarking on his own pursuit of professional playing time with the Las Vegas Locos of the UFL. It was no surprise to Dillard that Clement will soon pull a helmet back on and start throwing passes to receivers.
"I talk to Chase at least every week or two," Dillard said. "I knew that he was excited about the chance to come back to Rice (as the Owls Offensive Quality Control Assistant), but I didn't think he really could walk away from the field just yet. I knew how badly he wanted to prove that he could play professionally," he added.
Dillard was also excited to learn that the man who coached him for two seasons, David Beaty, had returned to Rice as the Owls new Offensive Coordinator. Beaty had mentored Dillard during his breakout sophomore year when he set an NCAA record with touchdown catches in 13 consecutive games while sparking the Owls to their first bowl game in 45 years.
"You could see then that he had great ideas and knew so much about offense and different schemes. I thought it was great for Rice that he decided to come back. He pushed us hard as receivers and I know he will push the entire offense to play fast and be aggressive. It will be fun to watch," Dillard predicted
Jarett Dillard will report on Thursday for his second NFL training camp (check back to the R Blog for an interview), but here's a link to a story off the UFL web site about Dillard's triggerman during their glory days at Rice Stadium, Chase Clement: Locos QB's Rattay, Clement Share UFL Team, NCAA History
Clement began what he believed was the start of his coaching career earlier this year when he was named Offensive Quality Control Assistant under David Bailiff. But even as he dove headlong into his duties, it became obvious that he desired a better ending to his football career than his abortive time in the training camp of the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the CFL last summer.
When offered the chance to play under quarterback guru Jim Fassel at Las Vegas of the new Unight Football League, Clement found a willing and understanding supporter in his employer, David Bailiff.
"I knew that Chase wasn't happy with the way things turned out last summer, and I was happy to know he was going to get a chance like this. I wished him well and told him I hoped I wouldn't see him for a long time, but he has a place here at Rice whenever his playing career comes to an end," Bailiff said.
Just a quick update on a pending matter from a previous blog post about Ryan Lewis. Conference USA has approved the medical hardship waiver for Ryan, which means he will have three seasons of eligibility for baseball remaining.
Following a four-year career as a student-athlete at Rice University, Rodney Foster's education continued this past year on another continent. While many of his classmates from Rice went on to post-graduate studies, Foster's classroom this past year was a city in the Rhineland area of Germany and basketball courts unlike any in the United States.
Foster's agent worked out a contract just days before the former Rice point guard set out for the city of Leverkusen in the far western reaches of Germany. Just days after arriving in Leverkusen, Foster made his debut as a professional athlete playing for Bayer Giants Leverkusen (and yes, the team takes its name from the pharmaceutical manufacturer which is headquartered in the city).
"It was definitely a quick transition," Foster said. "I got there, settled in and we practices two or three days before our first game."
On the court, Foster had to become adjusted to a different kind of basketball. And outside the team's home venue, Wilhelm Dopatka Halle, the suburban Houston native had to come accustom himself to a new culture.
"I was there to play basketball but I definitely wanted to experience everything I could," he said. "Not too many people get the opportunity to go to another country and live their daily life in a different culture. I definitely got a lot out of the experience."
From late October to the end of April, Foster soaked in a totally different lifestyle. He had an opportunity to visit cities such as Berlin, Frankfort, Munich and Cologne as well as travel to other neighboring countries.
"I learned how Europeans lived," he said. "It is a much slower pace compared to how it is in the United States. The people were very healthy - they walked just about everywhere they went and there was not much traffic."
And the time he was there corresponded with the winter months. For a young man from south Texas, it was an adjustment.
"Being from Houston, I wasn't used to the temperature not getting above freezing for several days at a time during the winter," he said.
On the court, he had to pick up a game which was officiated differently than college hoops and rules which included a 24-second shot clock as well as a trapezoid lane which allows for more spacing and less congestion.
"I had to get used to how they played over there," he said. "You don't have much time to run plays. It was a lot more pick-and roll based. They emphasized the spacing on the floors and you had a lot of shooters on the perimeter. The pace was faster and guys got up and down the floor. We tried to put up a lot of crooked numbers on the board."
And when it comes to officiating, Foster will always remember the first time he called a timeout and was whistled for a technical foul.
"Only coaches can call a timeout," he said. "I wish I had known that before I did it."
For the year he averaged 16.3 points and 5.2 rebounds while shooting 42 percent from the field and 92 percent from the free throw line.
Foster and his agent will be looking at other possibilities to play in Europe next season but returning for a second year with the Bayer Giants Leverkusen is a definite option. For one thing, Foster said his teammates, who with the exception of one other America were all European, were very good to him and allowed him to quickly ease into a comfort zone on and off the floor. And Foster said the fan support for his team made for a great experience.
"The fan support was crazy," he said. "You had to get used to the constant beating of the drums and all the artificial noisemakers. We packed the arena. The college atmosphere was fun but the fans in Germany were rowdy. They definitely support their players."
Foster is one of several former Rice student-athletes who have or are currently playing in Europe. What looks to be as close to a thorough list of former Rice Owls playing in Europe is available at usbasket.com.
The current list also includes Brock Gillespie (Cuxhave Bascats of the Germany-Pro A league); J.R. Harrison (BK Minsk-2006 of the Belarus Premier League); Christian Kollik (ABSC Raiffeisen Graz of the Austria-A Bundesliga league); Aleks Perka (Polonia Azbud Warszawa) and Lorenzo Williams (LTI Giessen 46ers of the Germany-1.Bundesliga).
With the deadline for major league clubs to sign their 2010 draft picks drawing closer, Wayne Graham and his coaches have continued to evaluate the roster and prepare for any openings that might develop as well as keep a sharp eye trained for any late-blooming prospects to fill their needs.
The need for additional left-handed hitters was addressed with the decision of Ryan Lewis to return to Rice.
Lewis, who is playing this summer for the Alexandria (La.) Aces of the Texas Collegiate League, had withdrawn from Rice and announced his intentions to transfer to LSU-Eunice, a Division II JC in his home state. But Graham said after internal discussions with the staff, it was decided to offer Lewis a chance to return to the Owls. Lewis has completed the re-enrollent process and is set to return this fall.
"We knew we have a shortage of left-handed hitters and I decided that rather than try to bring in someone from a JC who was an unknown quantity, it made more sense to bring Ryan back," Graham said. "We saw what he was capable of when he was healthy and we really liked his stroke. Ryan did a very good job for us as a freshman (in 2009) when he was thrown into the mix without benefit of Fall Baseball or anything. I don't think people really grasped how difficult it was to step in the way he did," Graham added.
Lewis hit .289 in 22 games, including 11 starts) for the Owls in 2009 after he was pressed into duty in mid-April. A scholarship quarterback, he only joined the Owls after the Texas Bowl. In the fall of 2009, Lewis appeared in five games for the Rice football team, including a start on national television against Tulsa. He threw for 99 yards and a touchdown in the game, but also suffered a shoulder injury that lingered into the spring when he returned to the baseball team. He appeared in one game as a defensive replacement and Rice has filed an application for a medical hardship waiver in order to give him three full seasons of remaining eligibility.
"He came to us after football this year with a shoulder injury and could not make up any ground. He's healthy now and holding his own in the summer league while using a wood bat. I'd like to see where he'll be in the spring after going through a Fall with us. With his shoulder healed, he could wind up starting in right field or we might look at him at first base," Graham added.
Jimmy Comerota's most recent Fourth of July was the one he'd always dreamed of. Woke up, went the ballpark, practiced baseball for hours, played a game, then sat back to watch the fireworks. It was perfect in every way, save for the need to wear a jacket while watching the postgame show.
"It gets cold up here (in Yakima, Washington) at night, and that's something I've had to get used to," he laughed. "I told folks I wasn't used to being cold on the Fourth of July. But if that's the biggest worry I'll have, then things are going great."
Comerota endeared himself to a generation of Owls' fans with his all-out hustle and determination on the field. Few others could pull off a nickname such as "Jimmy Baseball" and bring honor to the concept the way Comerota did over five seasons with the Owls. Be it his innate talent for turning a pristine white uniform into a soiled mess during pregame infield, cranking out timely hits, saving teammates from errors by digging errant throws out of the dirt at first, or refusing to leave a game (even while a welt complete with the imprint of baseball stitches was forming on his face) after a bad hop, Comerota obviously loved every second he was on the field.
After hitting .329 with six homers and 47 RBI as a senior, he allowed himself to believe that his body of work would offer him the chance to pursue his ultimate goal of playing baseball professionally.
"Being a fifth-year senior, I knew I had to temper my own expectations. I was hoping I would get drafted, and a few scouts had told me that I probably would. But at the same time, I was trying not to set myself up to be disappointed. It was hard to keep things in check," he admitted.
After the media event that Major League Baseball has created around the first round on Monday night, Comerota knew it would be a while if a call from a team was likely to come, so after watching the first several rounds of the draft's second day on his computer at home, he headed to Reckling Park to clear out his locker as well as the anxiety in his head.
"I needed to get it done, but I also needed to get away from the computer screen," Comerota recalled. "I was not expecting my name to come up in those rounds, and I was thinking more about how I would ever get to sleep on (Tuesday) night, because I really thought I might not get picked until Wednesday."
Upon returning home from his housekeeping duties at Reckling, Comerota found that his computer had shut down in his absence. He dutifully logged back on, and as the DraftTracker on MLB.com returned to his screen, the first name to pop up on his screen as the next player selected was none other than his own, by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 18th round.
"I was in shock," Comerota recalled. "It was the last thing I expected to see right away. I grabbed my phone and called my dad and then my mom, and right after that, Arizona called to make it official. It was a good thing I got those out of the way right away, because all the sudden my phone just blew up from all the calls and texts people were sending me," he recalled.
Needless to say, there was not much in the way of a negotiation with the Diamondbacks when it came to signing, but legend has it that when told he'd fly to minicamp on Thursday, Comerota offered to drive overnight and be there on Wednesday. Even a player called "Jimmy Baseball" could not have pulled that off.
"No, it didn't quite happen like that, but I can see why people would think so." Comerota laughed. "As soon as I hung up the phone, it hit me that I had to move out of my place, and I had one day to get it all done. Wednesday was a total blur."
Most important for Comerota was the need to go back to Reckling one more time to see the Owls coaching staff. "Coach (Patrick) Hallmark had played in the Northwest League, and I wanted to ask him about it. I talked to the rest of the coaches and sat down with Coach Graham. He had some advice to share, but mostly I wanted the chance to look them each in the eye and thank them for the opportunity to play at Rice and become the player I am today," he said.
By signing right away, Comerota was one of the first six players to report to the D-Backs' minicamp. Over the next week, players continued to filter in, and he was glad to have gotten an early start on the indoctrination of becoming a professional baseball player.
"They threw a lot of information at us, which was tough when you were there from the start. It had to be unsettling for the guys coming in later in the week."
Comerota quickly found that the life he'd yearned for from his earliest days of playing baseball was exactly as he imagined.
"It's a lot of baseball, and it's awesome," he said. "We get to the park each day around 1:30 or 2:00 for early infield work, then have extra hitting, then regular BP, then play the games. This is fun for me. I always wanted to just get up each day and play baseball, and now I am. Sometimes I feel like I have to pinch myself to believe I am really here, getting paid to play baseball." he stated.
Playing for the Yakima Bears has exceeded his expectations in terms of the support for the team.
"I guess I was expecting things to be kind of dead, based on what some folks have said about minor league baseball, but we have great crowds and it makes for a pretty cool atmosphere," he noted.
The Bears' road schedule has allowed Comerota to take in an area of the country he'd never visited before, as well as make his first trip outside the US.
"I'd never been out of the country, but Vancouver is really beautiful," he stated. "When we were in Boise, I had to take a little side trip over to the campus of Boise State and get a look at the blue turf. We played in Everett, Washington and Microsoft's headquarters are down the road from the yard. I had a few buddies from Jones College who were working there, so we got together for lunch. When we were in Seattle, I had to go down to the docks and see them throwing the fish at the Pike Place Fish Market."
At the end of the day, baseball remains the primary focus for Comerota. "It's been a challenge to get used to the wood bat, no doubt. Baseball is always more fun when the wins start coming and the hits start falling."
Baseball being fun is the way he will remember his experience as a Rice Owl.
"If someone had told me when I was coming out of high school that I would go to Omaha three times and play in the NCAA tournament every year, that I would get my degree from Rice and then go on to play professional baseball, I would have found it hard to believe. But it all happened to me. The experiences I had in college and the friendships I have made are exactly what I would hope will happen to the future Owls."
Note: David Sayler's final day at Rice was on Monday, July 12, but prior to beginning the drive north to Vermillion, South Dakota later this week, he penned a few final thoughts about his time at Rice...
During my time as Interim AD at Rice, my father-in-law sent me a quote that has stayed with me ever since. It is by Ralph Waldo Emerson and it reads "What lies behind us and what lies before us are but tiny matters compared to what lies within us."
What lies within me is the perspective I have gained these past four years into what a truly special and unique place that is Rice University.
I will miss Rice a great deal - both for what it represents and for the people that make it great. Having the chance to work with such tremendous student-athletes such as Jarett Dillard, Cole St. Clair and Lennie Waite--to name just three--has been awesome. No doubt, they accomplished many great things as athletes, but the truly awesome part has been that they have done so while at the same time being a "student-athlete" in the true sense of the word as the NCAA defines it.
In many ways, Rice is a model program for what Division 1 Intercollegiate Athletics should be all about and that is something to be fought for and maintained by all involved. I call myself fortunate to have come along at such a great time in the history of Rice Athletics - with improved facilities, multiple bowl game appearances and numerous Conference USA Championships. Yet I know that none of those things could have been accomplished without the tremendous support and efforts of everyone involved - the Rice Administration, student-athletes, athletic donors, season ticket holders, our coaches and our support staff. I want to thank all of you for making my time at Rice a period that I will always remember fondly.
It has always been a career goal of mine to become a Director of Athletics at a Division 1 institution. I was fortunate that President Leebron gave me the opportunity to be the Interim AD at Rice and interview for the permanent position. I learned much during that time and although I did not achieve my goal, it was a valuable process for me. It should also be noted that Rice made a great hire in Rick Greenspan and he will do great things for this program going forward.
The experience of being your Interim AD prepared me well for the AD search at the University of South Dakota. There is much to accomplish at USD, but I am ready for all that lies ahead. It was clear to me during the interview process that both the President and I share many similar thoughts and I have no doubt at all that our partnership will be a great one. I hope that all of you can find some space within your fan interest spectrum to follow the Coyotes at usdcoyotes.com as we complete our transition into Division 1 athletics.
The entire Sayler family is excited for this journey, especially now that we found our old winter jackets hidden away in a deep closet this morning!
Thanks again to all of you and I know great things lie ahead for Rice as well as the University of South Dakota!
For your summertime perusal, here is the Rice 2-deep roster as the Owls head into the final weeks of summer session and the start of training camp looms at the end of the first week of August: Rice Pre Fall Camp Two-Deep .
The full roster has been updated online as well, with the incoming freshmen having been assigned their initial numbers--emphasis on "initial"--since more than a few freshmen have seen their numerical designation change after their initial season. Also included in this updated listing are the incoming freshmen walk-on players.
There are a few number changes among returning players, most notably Luke Willson and Brian Stacy.
Any questions about the roster?
First off, here's the link to MLB.com's coverage of Anthony Rendon winning the 2010 Dick Howser Trophy
With his recent home run splurge as the backdrop and as MLB prepares for the All-Star Break, it seems as good a time as any to delve a little deeper into Lance Berkman's 1997 season and those of the other notable NCAA home run hitters.
For several years, I've enjoyed tossing out the following trivia question: "Who is the only player to hit 40 home runs in a season in both Division I baseball and the major leagues?" The answer is Berkman, whose 41 homers as a junior at Rice in 1997 rank third on the NCAA single-season list and who hit 42 in 2002 and 45 in 2006 for the Astros.
While many baseball fans toss out Pete Incaviglia's 48 homers in 1995 (more on that later) as the logical place to start, and given all the hype that surrounded his debut, they are surprised to learn he never came within shouting distance of that total in the majors. The other two names on the list of players to have topped 40 homers in an NCAA season are less easily recalled, but here's the list:
1. Pete Incaviglia, Oklahoma State, 1985 48 (75 games)
2. Jeff Ledbetter, Florida State, 1982 42 (74 games)
3. Lance Berkman, Rice, 1997 41 (63 games)
4. Bandon Larson, LSU, 1997 40 (69 games)
Incaviglia made the jump directly to the majors in 1986 after forcing a trade from Montreal (who had drafted him with the #8 selection in 1985) to Texas. He hit 30 homers as a rookie and topped 20 in each of his first five seasons with the Rangers, but only topped 20 once over his final seven seasons (hitting 24 while helping the Phillies reach the World Series in 1993). His final appearance at the major league level was with Houston in 1998, when he hit .125 in 17 at bats.
Ledbetter never advanced past the AA level in five minor league seasons, and hit just one more homer (43) over that period than he did when he became the first player at the Division I level to top 40 homers at Florida State in 1982.
Larson joined Berkman as the last two players to reach at least 40 homers in an NCAA season in 1997, and the pair faced off in the opener for both teams at the 1997 College World Series, a 5-4 LSU victory. Larson's career peaked in Omaha, earning Most Outstanding Player honors while leading the Tigers to the NCAA title. He went on to play just 109 career games in the majors and hit a total of eight home runs.
Berkman has enjoyed an incredible career after being drafted by Houston in 1997. He ranks fifth in major league history with 325 home runs as a switch hitter and is second only to Chipper Jones (432) in terms of National League switch hitters.
Of the players who have hit at least 32 homers in season on the Division I level, only Troy Glaus of UCLA (34 in 1997) and Mark McGwire (who hit 32 in 1984) have gone on to show similar production at the major league level. Glaus' 34 homers in 1997 would have easily led the country this past year, but was no better than third that season behind Berkman and Larson. Entering play on Friday, Glaus, who has revitalized his career this season with Atlanta, has hit 318 career homers.
Since 2000 only three players have hit at least 30 homers in a season, thanks to the changes in the aluminum bats. Nate Gold of Gonzaga's 33 in 2002 (in 56 games) stands as then high-water mark this century, which begs the question: In college baseball, is 30 the new 40?
Back to Incaviglia and his 1985 power display for a minute..... One of the ironic twists of his amazing season was the fact that the player who hit in front of him in the Oklahoma State lineup, Mike Day, finished second in the nation (and ranks second on the NCAA single-season list) with 102 walks. How was it that with such fearsome hitter up next that college pitchers could not find the plate when facing Day? In large part, it was because of the intimidating show that Incaviglia put on while standing on deck, something as the baseball SID at Nebraska at that time, I had the chance to witness in person. The burly outfielder used a sledgehammer to loosen up and would flip it from one hand to other with minimal effort. It was impossible to miss, and Day no doubt benefitted from the distraction, as did Incaviglia, who was setting his own table.
So what are your favorite memories of college sluggers who have face Rice or favorite stories of power displays by the Owls?
USA Baseball will announce the winner of the 2010 Golden Spikes Award as part of the festivities surrounding the MLB All Star Game in Anaheim next week, while Anthony Rendon will be on the opposite side of the country, hoping that his name will be on USA Baseball's list as a member of the national team.
While Rendon's name is not among the list of Golden Spikes finalists, his domination of the other annual honors doled over the past several weeks has elevated the slugging third baseman to the rarified position of being a consensus player of the year who will be returning to play another season on the college ranks.
In recent times, Rice's top contenders for national honors have been more reflective of the Owls run of dominating pitchers (Jeff Niemann, Philip Humber, Eddie Degerman) or a two-way threat (Joe Savery), but Rendon's performance over his first two years has sparked a debate about his standing among Rice's greatest offensive threats.
Rendon's 46 homers in his first two years have made Lance Berkman's once formidable total of 67 career homers a plausible goal. No Owl has blasted more homers in his first two years, most notably Berkman, whose career total entering his junior year matched Rendon's output this past season (26).
Yet for all the awe that Berkman's seminal 1997 season inspired after hitting .431 with 41 homers and 134 RBI, he had a far different experience than Rendon when it came to the national awards circuit.
Nominated for several, he only took home the honor from the college baseball writers, who had not yet become affiliated with the Howser Trophy. Florida State's J.D. Drew collected the Golden Spikes as well as the honor from Baseball America, but most shocking of all to local fans was Tim Hudson's selection over both Drew and Berkman for the Bob Smith Award, which was presented in Berkman's backyard of Houston.
"I do remember that I thought I had a chance to win it because I thought I had a pretty good season." Berkman recalled "I wasn't surprised that I didn't win it because there was a lot of media attention on J.D. Drew and Tim Hudson. Tim Hudson won it and I think it was well deserved because he played two ways. I think he went 11-1 on the mound and he hit almost .400 with 20 homers and drove in a bunch of runs."
Wading through lists of numbers compiled against varying degrees of competition in ballparks of equally varying degrees of impact on performance can make the task of selecting one as the premier effort of the year daunting.
"It's so hard to make a determination on who's the best player in the country and who should win the Player of the Year because there's always a lot of great performances, so it's just a high honor to win the thing," Berkman said. "I was glad to be a finalist for the Smith Award and for the Golden Spikes Award. Even though I didn't win either one, I was glad to be there," he recalled.
For his part, Hudson confessed that winning the Smith Award that night was the farthest thing from his mind. He considered it a foregone conclusion that Berkman had the hometown advantage and years later recalled his improvised acceptance speech with a cringe. "It was the worst speech of my life. I had not made any effort to prepare anything. I was certain that Lance would win," he recalled.
Despite the hopes of some, postseason awards are not predictors of future success. Any quick glance of the list of past honorees bears witness to this fact.
That said, Berkman is proud to witness the success that Rendon has fashioned in his first two seasons. "I think clearly it's another feather in Rice's cap for the program to have another player that's been nationally recognized," he noted. "I didn't get a chance to see him play all that much, but everything that everybody says is that he's as good as there's ever been there. I'm happy that another Rice guy is getting recognition. I think Coach Graham continues to do a great job there and crank out some great players."
The expectations on Rendon will only continue to build towards the first pitch of the 2011 season, but Berkman says that the key to handling the heightened expectations will be to following the same, simple approach that has worked for him to this point.
"I feel like when you're going into your draft year there's an extra little bit of pressure and you can build it up to be such a big deal in your own mind. You might think that you have to do something extra special, which is not the case. You have to go out there and play and stay within yourself and be the type of player that you are. You need to avoid putting that in your mind and just go out there and play hard and stay within yourself.
"The other thing is just to work as hard as you can between now and the start of next year so no matter what happens, you can say you did everything you could do."