HOUSTON -- The sun always shines inside Minute Maid Park, whether the roof is open or not. If you’ve spent any time at the ballpark, you have noticed a bright yellow sunshine situated next to the No. 7 hanging in the rafters that represents the retired number of Hall of
HOUSTON -- The sun always shines inside Minute Maid Park, whether the roof is open or not. If you’ve spent any time at the ballpark, you have noticed a bright yellow sunshine situated next to the No. 7 hanging in the rafters that represents the retired number of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio.
The sunshine is a tribute to the Sunshine Kids, a non-profit organization dedicated to children with cancer that Biggio supported throughout his 20-year career in Houston. The sunshine is a replica of the pin Biggio wore on his cap during Spring Training and in batting practice throughout his playing career, but that was only a fraction of the support Biggio put behind the organization.
The Sunshine Kids was started by Rhoda Tomasco, a pediatric volunteer at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston in 1982. Astros reliever Joe Sambito began inviting the kids to Astros games, and years later, right-hander Larry Andersen was doing it and got Biggio involved. Biggio then served as the national spokesman for the Sunshine Kids for more than a decade as a player and helped the organization raise more than $5 million through golf tournaments and other charity work. Craig’s wife, Patty, has been instrumental in supporting the Sunshine Kids as well.
“It’s a big part of my life,” Biggio said. “It’s something that I enjoy doing, and I enjoy being around them. It’s something that I consider myself very lucky and fortunate to be around them. They’re like my family. We’ve had some good stories and some tough stories. It means everything to me and my family to be involved with them.”
Helping with the Sunshine Kids was fulfilling a promise for Biggio. When he was a two-sport star at Kings Park High School on Long Island, N.Y., Biggio had a young neighbor, Chris Alben, who died of leukemia. Biggio had visited with him often and became a surrogate big brother to Chris’ younger brother after Chris died. Biggio made himself a promise at that time: If he was ever in a position to do charitable work for kids with cancer, he would.
Biggio credits Andersen for bringing attention to the Sunshine Kids when he broke into the Major Leagues in 1988. He said the older players told him to be selective if he ever decided to jump into charity work. They told him to find something he was passionate about and do it right. The Sunshine Kids was an easy fit.
“When Larry was traded for Jeff Bagwell in 1990, I didn’t want to see it go away,” Biggio said. “It’s been an unbelievable relationship since.”
To help celebrate Biggio’s induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015, the Astros chartered a plane to Cooperstown, N.Y, and allowed Biggio to invite some special guests who otherwise might not have been able to go.
Biggio took some of the athletic training staff and clubhouse employees who had helped him when he was playing. He also invited four adults who had overcome cancer as kids and had befriended Biggio during his work with the Sunshine Kids.
Among those was Devin Duncan, who had known Biggio since she was three years old and diagnosed with leukemia and became involved with the Sunshine Kids. Duncan said she squealed when she got the call from the Astros that Biggio had invited her to join him in Cooperstown.
“I’ve always thought of him as such a hero,” Duncan said in 2015, “and to think that he was interested in me coming along and felt our connection and our relationship was good enough for me to be involved was one of the best feelings ever.”
The sunshine pin replica was placed next to Biggio’s No. 7 in 2015.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.