Berkman still has strong presence at old stomping grounds

Lance Berkman of the St. Louis Cardinals is still a hero to those at New Braunfels Canyon (Texas) High School. Scott Kane/Icon SMI

This year’s edition of the World Series hits close to home for members of the New Braunfels Canyon (Texas) baseball team.

Not just because Arlington, the hometown of the Texas Rangers, is a quick afternoon drive up Interstate-35. Not just because the majority of the Canyon squad are die-hard Rangers fans.

The biggest reason why? It can be found on the back of Canyon junior Blake Brunnemann’s favorite jersey.

It reads: BERKMAN -- as in St. Louis Cardinals star Lance Berkman -- as in former New Braunfels Canyon star Lance Berkman.

“He has been my favorite player since third grade when his mom was my teacher,” Brunnemann said “It’s pretty cool that he played here. So I have always looked up to him and always rooted for him.”

He also has rooted for his favorite player to win a World Series.

“But not this year,” he said. “I’m all for the Rangers.”

Canyon players, parents and teachers are all wavering back and forth this week on who they want to win this year’s Fall Classic.

Do you root for the hometown hero, or the hometown favorite team?

“It definitely is something people are talking about here,” Canyon head baseball coach Brian Martinez said. “It’s one of those deals where you hope (Berkman) does well, but you still hope the Rangers win the ball game.”

So far, Berkman and the Cardinals are tied with the Rangers 1-1 in the best-of-seven game series that swings to Arlington for Game 3 on Saturday night. Berkman’s two-run single in Game 1 was a key reason why the Cardinals won the Series opener, 3-2.

“I’m definitely rooting for the Rangers,” senior pitcher James Wood said. “But to see a player from here on the big screen of the World Series do well is definitely exciting.”

Berkman was definitely an exciting player during his diamond days in high school. In 1994, his senior season, he hit .539 with eight home runs and averaged an RBI a game. He then headed to Rice University before becoming a national household name while with the Houston Astros.

Martinez was in college when Berkman was dominating South Texas high school pitching. But he got to watch Berkman play against his brother, who was playing for New Braunfels High at the time.”

“I saw him hit a few towering shots here,” Martinez said. “He is one of those you definitely remember and you definitely felt that he was going to be a special player.”

When Berkman was a senior in high school most of Canyon’s players weren’t even born yet. But growing up in New Braunfels it’s hard not to hear a Lance Berkman story if you are a baseball player.

“The kids know Berkman walked these halls. They know he played on their field, and because of him they know hard work pays off,” Martinez said. “So it’s pretty exciting for them even though they didn’t see him play while he was here.”

Even though he hasn’t put on a Canyon uniform in 17 years, Berkman is still helping his alma mater win.

“He definitely inspires all of us to play better,” Wood said. “He shows us it is possible for someone from a place like here to make it to the Big Leagues.”

Martinez said he doesn’t know anyone rooting for the Cardinals this week, but if Berkman came up with the bases loaded, down one run, in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7, he would hope for one outcome.

“Texas may not like me saying this,” he said. “But I would want the Canyon kid to get a hit. It’s tough to say that, but in that situation you root for the local kid.”

Brunnemann has a different opinion.

“He is my favorite player, but I’d want him to K,” he said. “I’m for the Rangers winning it all.”