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Back to school: Berkman hits the books at Rice

Former All-Star on schedule to graduate with kinesiology degree next summer

HOUSTON -- Thirteen years ago, a reporter asked Lance Berkman, "What did you major in at Rice?"

"Eligibility," he answered.

HOUSTON -- Thirteen years ago, a reporter asked Lance Berkman, "What did you major in at Rice?"

"Eligibility," he answered.

Hardy-har-har. That was a different time, of course, when Berkman's Major League career was still in its infancy, and he had -- as is the case with most young and supremely talented players -- an endless future ahead of him.

Nearly a decade and a half later, Berkman's list of accomplishments is, indeed, endless. He played 15 years in the big leagues, appeared in 11 postseason series, played in two World Series and won one of them. He was an All-Star six times and was one of the most feared hitters in the National League for close to a full decade. And he netted upward of $124 million, which is obviously enough to live on several dozen lifetimes over.

One year into retirement, Berkman is back where he started -- at Rice University, where he's taking a full course load with an eye on graduating next summer. His major isn't "eligibility", but rather, kinesiology, and his schedule is packed four days a week. He has classes Monday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.; Tuesdays from 8 a.m. until noon; Wednesdays from 1 p.m. until 2:15 p.m., and Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 9:15 a.m., 9:25-10:50 a.m. and 11 a.m. until noon.

For the most part, the 38-year-old Berkman blends in well with the students at Rice. Other than his hair and beard, both speckled with a healthy dose of gray, Berkman looks like any other student, dressed casually in jeans and a button-down shirt and carrying a book-stuffed backpack over one shoulder. He seems to be at ease among his fellow Rice undergrads, despite the nearly two decades discrepancy in age.

Video: Berkman on going back to school, the Astros and more

It probably helps that Berkman, known for his wry sense of humor and one-liners that made him a fan and media favorite as a player, still has plenty of class clown in him.

Berkman seems to have a comeback for everything and everyone, whether it's his Exercise Epidemiology professor, Dr. Augusto Rodriguez, or his fellow classmates, who don't always know what to make of the Puma's one-liners and seem to find cracking up the acceptable response.

"It's fun," Berkman said of mingling with "the kids."

"It makes you feel young. Having played with guys that are their age, or not too much older than they are, I'm used to dealing with people that age. Most of the kids are great. They're mature, and they're focused on their studies. Rice is a unique environment from that standpoint. You can't horse around too much at Rice and expect to do well. It attracts a certain kind of kid, and it's been an enjoyable experience so far."

On Wednesday, Berkman and two classmates, Ford Stainback and Kevin McCanna, made a 20-minute presentation that focused on elderly people falling while being cared for in nursing homes. The trio addressed the problems, risks and impacts of these incidents and then presented a way to prevent it from happening as much.

This is one of four presentations Berkman will make before Thanksgiving. It's a hectic schedule that won't let up until early December, and it'll pick up full steam again once the holidays are over.

While still playing, Berkman always assumed he'd eventually finish up the coursework needed to obtain his degree. He now views it as a way to expand his horizons as he decides what he wants to do with his life now that he's done as a professional ballplayer. He has a general idea, in that he wants to impact the lives of young people -- whether that's coaching or teaching or some other avenue. That probably eliminates a future in broadcasting, a vocation many feel he's destined for, given his easy-going nature and sharp wit.

Video: Lance Berkman discusses his decision to retire

Coaching may be his calling, but he's not ruling anything out right now.

"I'm just trying to take a little bit of time to find out what life's like when your playing career is over with," Berkman said. "I have four daughters that are growing up fast, and I'm trying to spend as much time as I can with them. There's a lot of things going on right now. It just happened that this fit into the schedule of life at this point and buys me a little bit of time to figure out exactly what it is that I'm interested in doing."

Berkman is also getting a taste of coaching while he goes to school, serving as a student assistant under his former baseball coach, Wayne Graham. NCAA rules dictate that a team can employ two paid assistants, one volunteer assistant and up to three student assistants. Graham had plenty of the first two but had an opening for a student assistant. Berkman, with plans to re-enroll at Rice, found the opportunity a perfect fit.

"It all made sense," he said. "It worked out that this was the time to do it."

Only a year removed from retirement, Berkman feels like he's in the middle of "a really long offseason." But he also knows that he has some important decisions to make regarding his future, seeing as he's still a young man with decades of life ahead of him. Sure, he's financially set for life, but that only goes so far when it comes to finding fulfillment on a day-to-day basis.

"When you're a former something and you're not quite 40 … it is a little bit strange to be in retirement mode at this stage in life," Berkman said. "That's taken some time to hash out and work through. But I know that God has something in store for the second phase of my life, and I'm excited to see what that is."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

Lance Berkman