View from Studio 3: Tracing roots of Biggio's legend
It's been a couple of days since the Hall of Fame announcement. The class of 2015 has been whisked around the New York City area doing a media tour at breakneck speed. They've talked with writers, TV hosts, a legendary comedian in David Letterman and many adoring fans along the way.
Questions ranged from their favorite teammate to favorite food. They're rock stars. The cold snap in the Northeast can't derail the hottest quartet since The Beatles took the U.S. by storm in the mid-'60s. Coincidentally, this Hall class of Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio appeared on The Late Show at the Ed Sullivan Theatre. The same place John, Paul, George and Ringo appeared more than 50 years ago.
Let me take you back to Smithtown, N.Y., 1985. The Smithtown Recreation Baseball Camp was running like a tight ship. Hundreds of boys whose ages ranged from 8-14 spread out across a dozen baseball fields on the grounds of Smithtown High School East. It was pure heaven for a middle-class kid in Long Island. We played baseball from morning to late afternoon. Non-stop. With plenty of time to get home and play more baseball before it got dark. Then it was time to watch baseball on television. That's how it was back then.
Having attended the camp in the 1970s and early '80s, it was a privilege to be coaching at a place I considered a second home. There was no need to look at the daily schedule to remind me of the drills. I knew it by rote. I also knew that these kids looked up to the coaches as if we were Major Leaguers, when in reality, most of us were just big kids ourselves playing in high school. The dream was to someday play in college.
One coach in particular was already living that dream. He was an athletic, handsome, quiet and focused young man named Craig Biggio.
I distinctly recall his presence. Not a big guy, but when he walked around the diamond instructing the campers, you could tell he had "star" potential. His confidence was obvious. So too was his ability. At the time, Biggio was a catcher at Seton Hall University. He'd teach catching drills, and when he'd unleash a throw from home to second base, the other coaches would stop and stare. I'm not too sure the kids noticed, but that didn't matter. My friends and I did. My best friend Dan Melore and I would talk about Biggio during and after camp in ways kids today talk about Major League stars.
Little did we know he would become a star and eventually a legendary player who would be enshrined in Cooperstown three decades later.
Here's a story I recall that tells you what you need to know about Craig Biggio. Some of the details may be a tad murky (forgive me, it has been 30 years).
It was a hot, muggy morning, and the campers were pouring off the buses in the parking lot. The coaches were being dropped off by their parents. Coolers, sun tan lotion and gloves in hand. In the distance, Biggio appeared on a 10-speed bike, arriving at camp after a long ride from home. Had to be at least 10 miles or more from Kings Park.
Who would ride a bike in that heat to start a day that would reach well into the 90s?
It gets better.
Biggio got of the bike to reveal a bruise on his leg the size of an eggplant. This was a bruise you couldn't help but notice. The story goes that he was hit by a pitch during a tournament game at Fenway Park. Wow! Fenway Park? That increased his "camp cred" a million times over. This was the first indication that getting hit by a pitch didn't scare Biggio. He's MLB's modern day leader in getting plunked.
We joked that if we had a bruise like, that there was no way we'd be able to ride a bike -- let alone walk around a baseball field all day long.
Biggio didn't miss a beat. And at the end of the day, he hopped back on the bike and rode all the way home.
The legend was just beginning.