Baseball and horse racing don’t have anything in common except that both sports offer as its ultimate award a Triple Crown. For racing it is presented to a three-year –old horse that wins the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes over a period of five weeks.

The Triple Crown in baseball takes 162 baseball games and goes to the individual player who leads his league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in.
And it has been quite a while since either Triple Crown award has been handed out—Boston Red Sox slugger Carl Yastrzemski was major league baseball’s last recipient and that was in 1967 while Affirmed was the last horse to win racing’s Triple Crown and that occurred in 1978.

This week undefeated Big Brown has fulfilled two of the three prerequisites for horse racing’s triple Crown by winning both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness races and needs only to win the Belmont Stakes June 7 to garner this coveted award.

And Houston Astros superstar first baseman Lance Berkman appears to be on track to have a legitimate shot at baseball’s top individual award by leading the major leagues in home runs (17) and runs batted in (46) and is second only to Atlanta ’s Chipper Jones in batting average at .399 to Jones’ .410.

Unfortunately, Berkman in reality is still galaxies away from baseball’s Triple Crown because the season just reached the one-quarter mark last week and still has nearly 120 games to go before a valid candidate for this award surfaces.

But Berkman stories have been appearing in newspapers in every corner of the country because he has been blistering the baseball for the Astros for the past month or so. He has been establishing all sorts of high-water marks with the torrid tear he has been on from both the right and left sides of home plate.

In games through Sunday, Big Puma, which  Berkman is nicknamed by his teammates and Astros’ fans, has hit safely in 17 straight games, with most of those being multi-hit contests for the switch-hitting versatile player who was drafted by Houston a few years ago from nearby Rice University.

During Berkman’s hitting streak he has gotten 36 hits in 66 at-bats for a torrid .545 batting average. Since 1956, Pete Rose has been the only major leaguer to go 31-for-50 until Berkman did it last week. His hot streak has awakened the rest of the Astros, too, with the team boasting the best record in the major leagues since April 21. And outfielder Hunter Pence has hit safely in his last 16 games through Sunday.
And for a team that has struggled away from Minute Maid Park over the years, the Astros returned from a season-long 10-game road trip to Los Angeles , San Francisco and Arlington with a nifty 7-3 record and has evened their away record at 14-14. A .500 winning percentage on the road is generally the benchmark of a division champion.
And with both Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio retired from the game, Berkman has inherited their role as the team leader and clubhouse guru. But as far as being a prime candidate for baseball’s Triple Crown, Berkman has never led the National League in home runs or RBIs, in fact, he’s never even been a Top 10 player in either of those categories.

Big Brown is in position to become only the 12th Triple Crown winner in horse racing history. But that long 1 1/2 mile race has been the undoing of many a fine colt.
There have been 10 horses that won the Derby and Preakness since 1978 but none was able to grab that third and final jewel of the Triple Crown. In 1998 Real Quiet lost by a nose to Victory Gallop.

And there were only three other winners of the Derby and Preakness that were undefeated going into the Belmont —Majestic Prince (1969), Seattle Slew (1977) and Smarty Jones (2004).

But Big Brown has been nothing short of spectacular in his brief career of five races that he has won by a whopping combined 39 lengths. In Saturday’s running of the Preakness,  jockey Kent Desormeaux didn’t even need the whip. When they hit the top of the stretch, the jockey simply crossed the reins to let Big Brown know it was time to take off.

Big Brown left the field of 11 other horses in his dust, winning by more than five lengths. After the race Desormeaux, who had ridden Derby winners Real Quiet and Fusaichi Pegasus declared, “This is the best horse I’ve ever ridden.”

Don’t be surprised if Big Brown’s biggest challenge in the Belmont Stakes comes from Japanese import Cosmo Drive, a half-brother to 2006 Belmont winner Jazil and three-quarters brother to 2007 Belmont winner Rags to Riches.

And if you happened to miss watching Big Brown win the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness Saturday, make it a point to watch the Belmont Stakes on June 7 because it probably will be the final race of Big Brown’s short competitive career.

Last weekend International Equine Acquisitions Holdings, which owns Big Brown, announced it signed a $50 million stud agreement that begins right after the Belmont Stakes concludes.

KWICKIES…A recent Harris Poll revealed something we suspected all along that horse racing is the favorite sport of only two percent of fans, which is in the same realm as bowling and soccer.

As if Virginia Tech hasn’t had enough problems in the past year, one of the Hokies’ top high school football recruits, Peter Rose, is facing felony drug charges—two counts for the distribution of marijuana and two counts for the distribution of drugs within 1,000 feet of a school. Last fall Rose was voted the Associated Press Player of the Year in Virginia .

The Lamar baseball team swept a three-game series from our alma mater the McNeese State Cowboys last weekend to win the Southland Conference East Division championship and will be seeded No. 2 in this week’s SLC Tournament, which will be held on the campus of Sam Houston State in Huntsville . The Cards will face seventh-seeded Southeastern Louisiana in first-round action Wednesday at noon.

The Texas Longhorns (34-19, 15-12 Big 12) swept a three-game series from rival Texas A&M last weekend, giving the Aggies five straight losses after their impressive 16-game winning streak in Big 12 action. Despite the three losses, the Aggies (42-12, 19-8 Big 12) still finished conference play tied for first place. Both teams will play in the Big 12 tournament this week in Oklahoma City .

With the Houston Astros salvaging the final game of the three-game weekend series against the Texas Rangers in Arlington 5-4, their overall record in Interleague play stands at 88-82.

JUST BETWEEN US….Last Monday a team from Sunset Grove Country Club entered the Senior Division of the Lobsterfest Tournament held at Idylwild Golf Course in Sour Lake . Yours truly, Ken Ruane, Jim Rodda and Jim Turpin formed a team aptly named the Senile Sunset Seniors and scrambled to a five-under par 67 to tie for third place in the huge tournament.

About Joe Kazmar