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Former Owl named to College Hall of Fame

Photo by 1994 Thresher | The Rice Thresher

Lance Berkman slides into home during his freshman year in the 1995 season. Berkman, who recorded a .385 batting average, 67 home runs and 272 runs during his Rice career, was named to the College Baseball Hall of Fame on March 4. Berkman, widely considered to be one of Rice’s most-succesful athletes, will be inducted into the Hall along with seven other former players. The induction ceremony will take place June 28-29 in Lubbock, Texas.

By Aniket Tolpadi     3/24/15 4:24pm

18 years after his final season as an Owl, Lance Berkman has been elected for induction into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame. One of eight players inducted this year, Berkman was recognized for his outstanding contributions to Rice baseball and college baseball as a whole.

Though he played for only three seasons at Rice, Berkman has made a significant impact on Rice baseball. In Berkman’s freshman year, he recorded a .322 batting average en route to leading the Owls to their first-ever appearance in the NCAA baseball tournament. In the two years that followed, Berkman developed his power, culminating in a junior season where he recorded a .431 batting average with 41 home runs in 255 at bats and was named the National College Baseball Writers Association’s Player of the Year. In Berkman’s junior and final season, Rice qualified for the College World Series for the first time. Throughout his Rice career, Berkman hit 67 home runs, drove in 272 runs and recorded a .385 batting average. Berkman also returned to Rice this year to work toward finishing his degree.

A legitimate argument can be made that Berkman, along with Coach Wayne Graham, are the primary reasons Rice baseball has emerged as a perennial national powerhouse. The success seen by the program during Berkman’s time and immediately afterwards helped convince the Rice administration to build a new ballpark; just three years after Berkman’s departure from Rice in 1997, Rice opened the Owls’ new stadium, Reckling Park. Prior to Berkman’s arrival, Rice had never been to an NCAA tournament. After his arrival, they have never missed one.

After leaving Rice following his junior season, Berkman was selected by the Houston Astros with the 16th overall pick in the 1997 MLB draft. After spending parts of the next three seasons in the minor leagues, Berkman emerged as a star outfielder for the Astros. After a strong rookie season in which he finished sixth in National League Rookie of the Year voting, Berkman became one of the most feared switch hitters in the game. From 2001 to 2008, Berkman averaged 33 home runs and 110 runs batted in per season.

During his time with the Houston Astros, Berkman played a large role in the team’s success. The franchise, which hadn’t qualified for the postseason since the 1986 season, became a perennial contender in the National League during Berkman’s tenure. In 2005, Berkman, along with Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell as well as star pitchers Roy Oswalt, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettite, would win the franchise’s only pennant in 2005, though that team lost to the Chicago White Sox in the World Series. Though Berkman was unable to capture a World Series title in Houston, he was able to in 2011 during a resurgent year with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Berkman’s accomplishments have made him one of the most-decorated athletes from Rice: He was named the 1997 College Player of the Year, is a six-time All-Star and is universally recognized as one of the game’s great hitters from the 2000s.

Berkman and the rest of this year’s Hall of Fame class will be inducted June 28-29 at the College Baseball Hall of Fame in Lubbock, Texas.

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