THE ASTROS AREstruggling—but not so their big-ticket free agent acquisition. LeftfielderCarlos Lee signed up for six years and $100 million, then started doing what hedoes best: rake. His 80 RBIs were third best in the National League throughSunday. At 6'2" and 240 pounds, the Panama native isn't just a presence inthe batter's box. He's also a star in another Texas pastime. Meet baseball'sbest-hitting rancher.
On his approach atthe plate in RBI situations
Hitting with runners in scoring position is different [than with nobody on]. Itry to hit the ball up the middle and cut down my swing to give myself a chanceto drive the guy in.
On the allure ofthe short (315 feet) leftfield porch at Minute Maid Park for a righthandedhitter
When I get to a ballpark, I try not to think about the walls. That can take meaway from my game [hitting to the gaps]. At the plate I'm trying to think aslittle as possible.
On his earliestbaseball memories
I went to games to watch my dad. He was a centerfielder and an All-Star [inAguadulce, Panama]. I was always a batboy. All of us kids would play on thefield when there was a break in the action. Growing up in Latin countries, youplay a lot of sports. Basketball, soccer, football, volleyball. I played themall.
On his ranchingpedigree
I've been working on a ranch since I was about five, in Aguadulce. Mygrandfather raised cattle, and it's how I spent time with him. On my ranch in[Wharton County,] Texas, I raise Brahman cattle. My three kids [Cassandra, 6;Karla, 4; and Karlos, 2] get really excited about the ranches, running around,spending the whole day with the animals.
I have nine ranches in Panama with different types of stock. In the off-seasonI drive around and check them out pretty much every day. About half arecommercial cattle, and the others are for breeding. In Texas, I breed cattleand export the embryos down to Panama. You can't transport live animals out ofthe United States.
On co-owning Mr.V8 960/5, the Grand Champion bull at the 2006 International Brahman Show inHouston
When you win a livestock show, it's not about making money or winning a prize.It's about the recognition that says you've got some good cattle.
On why he's notconcerned about handling livestock and has never had a mishap
Brahman is a docile breed. It's not a crazy cattle. When I see a difficultsituation, I stay outside [the fence]. I play it smart.
On a favoritepastime
Calf roping [which he does only during the off-season]. It gets me away frombaseball. It gives me something that I can enjoy to escape from the game.
On what he'd bedoing if he hadn't become a baseball player
I always wanted to be an electrical engineer. I got involved with baseball andwent a different way, but I always liked science in school.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MATTHEW N. MICHAELS
TOM DIPACE (LEE HITTING)