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Lance Berkman opens up on Rangers-Astros rivalry

HOUSTON -- New Texas Rangers designated hitter Lance Berkman faced the questions about his Houston ties before Sunday's season opener at Minute Maid Park. He was peppered with questions about an I-45 rivalry between the Rangers and Astros and also about why he didn't wind up back in Houston to finish up his career.

Berkman offered up an honest opinion on what it will take to build a rivalry between the Rangers and Astros with the state's two teams now both in the American League West.

It will start, he said, with the Astros catching up to the Rangers, who have made it to the playoffs the last three seasons and should contend again this year.

"On paper, most prognosticators would give us the edge in that department," Berkman said. "And until the teams get more equitable on the field in terms of the aspirations, when that happens, you'll probably have a good little rivalry."

Berkman would like to see the Rangers and Astros develop a rivalry similar to the one the Astros had with the Cardinals when he played in Houston. St. Louis and Houston traded World Series appearances from 2004-06, with the Astros making to their only Fall Classic in 2005.

Berkman called it a great rivalry between the clubs.

"There was mutual respect on both sides and the games were clean and fun and intense but never boiled over into fisticuffs or anything like that," Berkman said. "So I'd like to see that kind of rivalry develop between the Rangers and the Astros."

Berkman, who played at Rice University and then for 11 1/2 years for the Astros, was asked Sunday about the possibility of returning to Houston after playing for the Yankees and Cardinals.

He said it never came close to happening.

"Primarily the Astros never made me an offer, so I never had a chance to accept it or not," Berkman said. "There was some genuine interest at a certain level, but the Rangers had interest at a higher level, so it just made more sense for both parties involved for it to work out this way."

Berkman, who lives in the Houston Memorial area with his wife and four daughters, said from a personal standpoint it made more sense for him to sign with the Rangers because of where the two franchises are currently positioned.

He loves Houston and the fans still adore him, but the Astros are picked to come in last place in the American League West while the Rangers are predicted to contend for a division title.

"It didn't make a whole lot of sense for the (Astros) to go out and spend a ton of money on a free agent when they had other needs that they would like to fill" Berkman said, "and they've done a pretty good job assembling a cost-effective roster.

"And for me, this late in my career, a chance to contend for another World Series was important to me, and the Rangers have an opportunity to do that."