In the sixth inning of Tuesday's game against the Reds, Lance Berkman ripped a liner into the right-field corner of the Great American Ballpark. Berkman was off like a shot out of the box and raced around the bases. A fortuitous bounce caused Jay Bruce to be delayed in throwing the ball into the infield. Third Base Coach Jose Oquendo waved the runner to third and Puma obliged. Like a crashing North Korean missile, he slid headfirst into third with a triple.
The Berkman triple was a sight to behold. It was as if Fox Sports Midwest had sped up footage of Berkman's home-run trot like filmmakers used to do with car chases in movies from the fifties and sixties. The instant reaction of Cardinals fans on Twitter was uniformly positive. Folks praised Berkman running hard out of the box. Others pointed out that Pujols would have sauntered into second base with the easy standup double. Some celebrated the less-than-graceful headfirst slide. I agreed with it all.
That the veteran Berkman, who has nothing left to prove, was sprinting around the bases on a chilly night in Cincinnati and hurtling headfirst into third for a triple affirmed everything we've been told about athletics from our earliest days. Always hustle. Give 110%. Leave it all on the field. Every cliché about effort was embodied by the veteran slugger (as opposed to a talentless slap hitter). It was refreshing.
Then the repercussions played out.
Berkman was lifted late in the game due to calf tightness. He would sit out Wednesday's season finale due to the calf troubles. The diagnosis now is a strained calf and Puma is considered doubtful for the weekend series agains the rival Cubs. Berkman may be able to return to action on Tuesday. Although five games will be missed, it appears that a disabled list stint will be unnecessary.
The fallout from Berkman hustling out a triple on Tuesday has caused me to rethink my initial reaction. I now find myself wondering if one extra base on Tuesday against the Reds was worth Berkman missing five games due to the calf injury. Do we want Berkman sprinting around the bases is forty-degree weather and risking injury?
But it isn't just Berkman who brought injury concerns into the season. He is a part of a group of older players on the Cardinals, a demographic that seems more susceptible to the tweaks and strains caused by baseball. In addition to the aged Berkman, there is Rafael Furcal (back) and Carlos Beltran (knee). Matt Holliday is no spring chicken and suffered his fair share of strains last season. The same could be said for Yadier Molina. Catchers take enough of a beating behind the plate without barreling around the base paths.
I thought I'd put the question to the VEB community on this Cardinals-less Thursday night. Would you rather have the veterans pushing the envelope on the field and giving it their all on every play, legging out triples and diving awkwardly for sinking fly balls, or taking the gimmes that are standup doubles and letting dive-worthy batted balls fall for hits? Is the risk of injury worth the 110% effort?