Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 2/6/12
ST. LOUIS - The first thing that popped into Lance Berkman's head when he heard the news that Albert Pujols had signed with the Anaheim Angels wasn't one of disappointment or sadness or shock. It was a bit more obvious. "That I was going to be playing first," Berkman said of his initial reaction. After returning to the outfield full-time for the first time in six years last year, the departure of Pujols means that Berkman will move back to the more familiar first base this season. Berkman played the majority of time at first base from 2005-2010 with the Houston Astros, appearing there in at least 93 games each season. "I'm ready to go play first base," Berkman said. "I love it. It's my favorite position." Many questioned Berkman's move to the outfield when he signed with the Cardinals last offseason, wondering how a 35-year-old with knee problems would fair at a position he hadn't played regularly since 2004. But Berkman proved the doubters wrong, playing 126 games in left and right field and committing just four errors. He had a comeback season at the plate as well, hitting .301 with 31 home runs and 94 RBI. Rewarded with another one-year contract and a nice raise to stay in St. Louis, the switch-hitter was prepared for another season in the outfield until Pujols decided to depart for Anaheim. Berkman told reporters prior to last season that the move to the outfield would actually be better on his knees and legs because of the lack of quick stops and starts that come with playing first base. Apparently he wasn't being 100 percent truthful. "I was just joking with you," Berkman said of comparing first base to the outfield. "It's just different. I said this last year, outfield you have more straight line running, you have to be able to run. "First base is a lot more lateral starts and stops, side to side, that kind of thing. A little more agility involved there. It's just different. The wear and tear is probably not going to be much worse." With a return to the outfield in front of him last offseason, Berkman worked daily with a personal trainer to trim down and get in better shape. He did a similar program again this year, but tailored it with things that will help him at first base. But the always-witty Berkman joked that the move back to first base means he could just stop worrying about his weight. "I can just relax now," Berkman said. "I'm playing first base so I can get huge. "The world is supposed to end this year anyway so what the heck. The Mayan Calendar is running out, that's what somebody told me, so I can eat whatever I want to." Asked for a serious answer to how things change by the move back to the infield, Berkman said, "Nothing really changes. I think as you age, I think you learn that you need to do a little bit more and be a little bit more conscious of how you prepare for the season. "I learned a lot about that last year and I'm doing a lot of the same things I did. Obviously a shorter offseason and you want to take the time to heal too. You just have to balance it and listen to your body. The bottom line is I'll be ready to go." Berkman, who will turn 36 on Friday, had his best offensive season in three years in 2011. And despite being a year older and dealing with a position change, the veteran hopes and expects to put up the same numbers again this year. "If I don't do that I'll be disappointed," Berkman said. "I think those were pretty close to my career averages so until I get really old, I expect myself to be able to produce that." With Pujols gone, the Cardinals could surely use another All-Star caliber season from Berkman. Even at a new position.
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