KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Following a routine physical at a nearby office Thursday morning, Carlos Lee turned to Lance Berkman and said, "How do you get to the field?"

Berkman, standing with Chris Burke, said, "Come eat breakfast with us and we'll go over there."

The topic of conversation?

"Pancakes," Berkman said.

Friendly, affable, and with a contract nearly as long and lucrative as his new teammate's, Berkman welcomed the Astros' splashy offseason acquisition with his usual charm.

"I try to reach out to the new guys and make sure they feel comfortable," Berkman said. "We want to get him as comfortable as quickly as possible."

Lee and Berkman have lockers next to each other in the Astros clubhouse at Osceola County Stadium. The wave of reporters first stopped at Berkman's locker to talk about the addition of a legitimate cleanup hitter, then moved on to Lee, who was simultaneously going through mail, meeting teammates, unpacking and addressing the media.

Playing for a contender for the first time in a few years is exciting to Lee, who played for the White Sox from 1999-2004 before moving onto the Brewers in 2005. He was dealt to the Rangers last year just before the trade deadline.

"You hope a lot that you're playing in October," Lee said. "I always leave home [for Spring Training] and my friends say, 'When are you coming back?' I say, 'I don't know.' This year, I left home and I said, 'late October.'"

'Doggie' returns: His uniform number has changed, from 15 to 46, but Richard Hidalgo looked right at home in the Astros clubhouse when he settled into his locker early Thursday morning.

Hidalgo, who last played for the Astros in 2004, was all smiles as he shook hands with old and new teammates and prepared for the first full-squad workout at Osceola County Stadium.

"I know a lot of people here and I'm happy to see them," Hidalgo said. "I'm just happy to be here again."

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Hidalgo begins camp with no guarantees. As a non-roster player, he'll fight for a roster spot with an outside chance of winning the starting job in right field. That position is Luke Scott's to lose, but Hidalgo is prepared to give the Astros something to think about.

"This year is different for me now," Hidalgo said. "I have to fight for a position. I just have to go out there, do my part, do what I love to do. Work hard and show them what I can do. They already know what I can do, too."

Hidalgo played for the Astros from 1997-2004, but a drop in offensive production caused him to fall out of favor with management, and he was eventually traded to the Mets. He signed with the Rangers in '05, hit .221, and did not play in the big leagues in '06.

An impressive winter ball performance in Venezuela convinced his manager, Astros special assistant Al Pedrique, to recommend that GM Tim Purpura give Hidalgo a look this spring.

"I'm just happy to have an opportunity again," Hidalgo said. "That's important for me right now. I'm just happy for this opportunity. Now everything's in my hands, and I just have to do what I can do. That's it."

Papa Bruntlett: Eric Bruntlett is expected to report to Spring Training on Saturday, having received an excused absence because of the birth of his first child. Bruntlett's wife, Eden, gave birth to a baby girl on Wednesday.

Quotable: "Pitchers beat up on hitters, and Lance was whining." -- manager Phil Garner, on the first full-squad workout, which included pitchers throwing batting practice and superstar sluggers getting into midseason form