Hall of Famer Biggio saluted by Houston fans
Sunshine Kids logo joins retired number in rafters as city gets chance to celebrate induction
HOUSTON -- Although tens of thousands of Astros fans flocked to Cooperstown, N.Y., to watch Craig Biggio's induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame last month, the Astros wanted to make sure the franchise icon was also given his props in the city where he carved out his storied career.
That's what Saturday's ceremony was for -- to present Biggio in front of a sold-out crowd at Minute Maid Park for one final salute of the first Astro to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
"We had 30,000 in Cooperstown, so I felt like I was in my own ballpark anyway," Biggio said with a chuckle. "But I'm excited about this, because not everybody could get up there [to Cooperstown]. It's a hard place to get to. To have a night like tonight, to be able to enjoy it with the fans, to be able to go down memory lane one more time, we're excited."
Seated on a stage behind the pitcher's mound, Biggio was flanked by several special guests who were asked to address the crowd: MLB.com columnist Richard Justice, former general manager Gerry Hunsicker, former manager Art Howe and Biggio's eldest son, Conor. Television announcer Bill Brown served as the emcee.
The 45-minute ceremony was highlighted by memories of Biggio as a player, teammate, father and role model.
Justice emphasized the "winning environment" of the Astros during the best run of success in franchise history, "made possible by Biggio and [Jeff] Bagwell.
"It was about winning," Justice said. "And about producing."
Hunsicker, who was the Astros' GM during those glory years, and who was responsible for much of the talent on the 2005 pennant-winning club despite leaving the club in November 2004, pointed to two poignant days in Astros history: July 26, 2015, the day Biggio was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and June 8, 1987, the day Biggio was signed after being drafted by the Astros as their first-round selection.
"It's no coincidence that the longest successful stretch in franchise history, some 10 years or more, had Craig Biggio in the lineup day after day, year after year," Hunsicker said.
Howe, Biggio's manager when the decision was made to move Biggio from catcher to second base, reminisced about the now-famous transition.
"We talked about moving him to second base, because he was the most talented, athletic player on the team, and as a catcher, those legs get tired," Howe said. "They wanted him out there for every game, every at-bat, and to extend his career."
Conor Biggio, who recently graduated from Notre Dame, gave the most moving speech, thanking his father for being his hero.
"Hero is a big word, but a fitting word," Conor said. "I saw him be a hero so many times, with the Sunshine Kids and my family. He truly is a hero in every sense of the word."
In a lighter moment, Conor referenced a scouting report filed before his dad was drafted. The Hall of Fame has a copy of that report and showed it to the Biggio family.
On a scale of 1 to 6, Biggio received threes almost straight across the board -- hitting, power, throwing and fielding. He got a four for speed.
"In the comments section, the scout wrote, 'Does not have a Major League bat. But shows a lot of desire,'" Conor said. "I think it's safe to say the scout got that first part wrong."
When it was time for Biggio to speak, he opened with, "Mike Fiers. Wow, bro. Dude. I mean, I've got to try to top that today? That's impressive, man," referring to Fiers' no-hitter the night before.
After thanking the fans for both flocking to Cooperstown in July and Minute Maid Park on Saturday, Biggio concluded by saluting longtime assistant athletic trainer Rex Jones, who is retiring at the end of the season, and longtime radio announcer Milo Hamilton, who is in poor health and couldn't attend either ceremony.
Astros president Reid Ryan then unveiled a new addition to Biggio's retired number that hangs in the rafters above right field -- the bright yellow Sunshine Kids logo that adorned Biggio's cap throughout his career and brought so much awareness to this charity that benefits kids battling cancer and their families.
The actual plaque that hangs on the wall with the other Hall of Famers in Cooperstown was put on special display in Union Station. Fans were invited to pose for a photo with the plaque, for a charitable donation of $7 -- a nod to Biggio's uniform number -- that would go toward the Sunshine Kids and Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.