After 20 years in Major League Baseball, 49-year-old Craig Biggio still talks about baseball like the little kid on Long Island who fell in love with the game.
“I’m probably going to say ‘Holy cow, I’m here!’ tomorrow when I have to make my 15-minute speech,” Biggio said with a laugh in front of reporters. “It’s been fun. The moment—as far as where I’m at, the people I’m with—is pretty incredible.”
Biggio decided to attend Seton Hall as a highly sought-after prospect in the late ‘80s and went on to paint a nearly picture-perfect career with the Houston Astros. Biggio never won a World Series, but he will now become the first Pirate ever inducted into a major sports Hall of Fame, as well as the first member of the Houston Astros.
“Just excitement,” Biggio said of his biggest takeaway from his Hall of Fame journey. “It’s kind of like the beginning of a baseball season—you have your own expectations, what you think everything is going to be like. But you’re not really sure what’s it going to be like until you start walking through everything and seeing everything, and seeing how big it is. So this is a pretty exciting time.”
Along with Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smotlz, Biggio is going to live on forever in baseball eternity, starting Sunday. But his voyage to Cooperstown began way back in South Orange.
Former Pirates coach Mike Sheppard turned Biggio into a catcher due to team needs and the New Yorker’s experience at the position from when he was younger. After five seasons behind the dish with Houston, Biggio came full circle and returned to second base, where he eventually won four Gold Gloves.
“I want to be as good as I can be,” Biggio, who also dabbled in the outfield, said of his versatility. “Whatever that is.”
The Astros and Seton Hall legend has been well-supported during the Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown. Streets and sidewalks have been lined with orange-clad fans bearing his name on their backs. For Biggio, the award is in their smiles.
“It’s a great feeling,” Biggio said of the support. “When you leave it out there every day on a baseball field for 20 years, there’s a lot of people and a lot of fans you get to know. They appreciate the way you went out and played the game, and I appreciated them for the journey we went on. … To be able to enjoy it with everybody, I can’t tell you how excited I am. Some people get emotional—it’s just a great relationship to be able to enjoy it with the fans.”
In addition to an army of Biggio’s faithful, the seven-time All-Star also brought along a large following of family members—probably 40 or 50 were making the trip this weekend, he believed.
“That’s a big number,” he jokingly said. “That’s a lot of houses.”
But this is also a big accomplishment, and one worthy of a big celebration.
On Saturday, Hall of Famers and inductees played some golf at the Leatherstocking Golf Course in Cooperstown. Biggio was beaming as he talked about himself and one of his sons sharing a simple morning with MLB legends.
“This morning, before we went golfing,” he said, “My son and I are sitting down with George Brett … and Bobby Cox, just having a cup of coffee. Talking baseball, talking about the [Astros] game last night.”
Moments like that slow time down, which is necessary during long processes like these—Biggio found out about the honor back in January. He has relied on advice and counsel from current members though, and he says that has helped a lot.
“The Hall of Famers have been great,” Biggio said. “They’re like, ‘Enjoy the moment, we’ve all been there so we understand the nervousness and excitement.’”
Even still, Biggio said that being in the perpetual company of the all-time greats gets his heart-strings humming.
“Sometimes when you touch on certain names it becomes emotional at times,” he said. “Just take your time with it and do the best you can.”
On Sunday, Biggio will officially become one of them. He’s anxious for the day of course, but also waiting with anticipation for next summer.
“I’m looking forward to being that guy next year, where you can just sit in the chair and watch somebody else stress over it,” he said.
He wouldn’t divulge into what lied within his Sunday speech, only that it was finished. He also was not sure how he would be feeling as the baseball world hears it.
“We’re done with it,” Biggio said. “We’re just trying to polish it up a little bit and hopefully it goes as smoothly as you want it to go.
“You never know what your range of emotions is going to be tomorrow. But I think like most players—pitchers or batters—you’re more comfortable standing in a batter’s box or making pitches than standing in front of a microphone.”
Biggio’s success in baseball was predicated on flexibility. It’s appropriate that he’ll enter the Hall—and become an all-timer—with an adjustment.
This time though, it’s not swapping positions, blocking a ball behind the plate or getting his uniform dirty.
It’s talking about it.
Thomas Duffy can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @TJDHoops.