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New Houston Baptist baseball coach Lance Berkman aims to influence kids 'for the good'

Before he even retired from playing in the major leagues, Lance Berkman knew he wanted to coach. He spent four years coaching at the high-school level and one year as an assistant at a Division III college.

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The goal, though, was always to be a head coach at the Division I level. He’ll finally get that chance, as Houston Baptist University on Monday named Berkman as its next head coach.

Berkman called it “the right opportunity at the right time.”

“For me, there’s no better level than college baseball — Division I college baseball,” Berkman said during his introductory press conference. “It’s really the last highest level where guys play for the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back.

“It’s an opportunity when you get in front of kids at this time in their life, you can really influence them for the good, which is a big part of the reason I wanted to be in coaching. This is kind of a dream come true for me. I just am so grateful for the opportunity.”

Berkman, a 15-year major league veteran and six-time All-Star, spoke about the desire to develop good baseball players, but also — and more importantly — develop young men spiritually through their walk with Jesus.

An outspoken follower of Christ, Berkman said HBU is “an underrated and underappreciated” university, and said it provides the opportunity to blend education with faith — two things he’s passionate about.

“I’m hopeful that when a player comes to our program, they’re going to get a complete experience,” he said. “They’re going to develop spiritually, they’re going to develop with a great education, and they’re going to develop physically through their baseball skills. To me, baseball is the vehicle by which we can develop those other areas.”

Berkman spent 12 of his major-league years with the Houston Astros, and before that played at Rice University in the southwest part of the city. And he spent four years as the head coach at Second Baptist High School in Houston. So he knows the city of Houston well and said he’s excited to be in what he considers the best spot in the country for amateur baseball talent.

His name alone will attract players, thanks in large part to his accomplishments on the field during his professional career. He won a World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011 and was a career .293 hitter with 366 home runs and 1,234 runs batted in.

But those who know Berkman well also believe his faith and character will attract many young men to the program. One of those people is Skip Schumaker, his former teammate in St. Louis:

Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa, who was Berkman’s manager in St. Louis, was also complimentary of the hire.

“He’s got that personality where people … they want to be around him,” La Russa said during a media session on Monday. “They’re going to listen to him because look at his history. One of the best clutch players in our league for all those years, and we saw it on our side there in ’11. I’m really pleased for him.”

After coaching at the high-school level for four years, Berkman spent one year as an assistant at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, a Division III school.

He also spent a lot of time essentially doing research on what it would take to be a Division I head coach. He met with athletic directors at several major universities just trying to find out what they look for in a baseball coach, and he visited with some of the most successful D-I head coaches in the country and saw first-hand how they ran their programs. Berkman also went back to finish his degree at Rice.

He feels prepared, he said, but acknowledges that HBU is taking somewhat of a risk on him since he’s still unproven as a college head coach. But he’s hoping he can make good on the chance they’re giving him.

“I’ve made plenty of mistakes on and off the field, so what you hope is that you can circumvent some of those things that I did wrong,” Berkman said. “I always say coaching is about shortening the learning curve. So whether it be in life or on the baseball field, that’s my job is to help these guys and kind of be a guide.”

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