Thursday, June 28, 2007


Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce you to the 27th member of Major League Baseball's 3,000 hit club:

Readers, Biggio. Biggio, readers.

On my short list of baseball heroes, Craig Biggio is one of the more important names. (You think it's an accident Cali's cat in Revolver is named Biggio?) Oddly enough, he scored his first hit 130 19 years ago against one of the other important names on that list, Orel Hersheiser. (Orel was my first baseball hero, when he pitched for the Dodgers during that magical 1988 season.) And now he's racked up 2999 more, and here's the truly extraordinary part -- he did it all with the same team. No big-money free agent contracts, no angrily demanding a trade, even though he played his first eight or nine seasons with a team that was mediocre at best. He stuck with the Astros, and did everything the team asked of him. If they wanted him to play second base, he'd do that. If they wanted him to play center field, he'd do that. If they wanted to put a flagpole and a hill in center field, he'd deal with that, too. And he did it all with more class than you typically see from a modern athlete. Craig Biggio never "beefed" with anybody. Biggio's never had a feud. To my knowledge, Craig Biggio has never had an argument with anyone. He's the nicest, most laid-back baseball player I've ever seen.

And his 3000th hit was typical of his style. It drove in a run to tie the game. Biggio tried to stretch it into a double, as per usual, and was thrown out easily -- the wheels don't turn like they used to. But within moments, he found himself mobbed by his teammates, embraced by his wife and daughter, and thunderously cheered by the faithful at Minute Maid. (The Astros are thirteen games under .500, yet sold out a weeknight game against Colorado. If you don't think all 42,537 fans were there to see Biggio, you're crazy.) But Biggio saw something was missing, and fixed it right away -- he dragged, almost literally, his longtime friend and teammate Jeff Bagwell onto the field to join the celebration. Bags, a preternaturally shy and withdrawn guy, didn't want to come out; he was happy staying on the bench. But Biggio knew the moment wasn't complete without him, so he dragged his suit-wearing buddy out onto the infield grass, and raised their arms in victory.

I won't lie to you: I got a little choked up.

I realize that this is probably Biggio's final season. And also that, with the team struggling, Biggio's bat and speed not what it once was, and the milestone recorded, his playing time is going to take a sharp dive. In a way, this was kind of like a retirement party. It warmed my heart, and this season has been a cold, bitter chill.

My favorite Biggio memory is from way back in 1999. The final regular season game at the Astrodome. I was there with Steve, my mom and my sister -- great seats in the left-field bleachers. If the Astros won that day (against the Los Angeles Dodgers -- there they are again!), they'd clinch the NL Central Division. And sure enough, they walked away with it, 9-5, and the big banner was rolled out and the Astrodome turned into a party. And as the final out was recorded, a big wagon gate opened in the center field fence, and Biggio rode across the Astroturf on a massive motorcycle, cigar clenched between his teeth, as his teammates mobbed the field and the crowd cheered themselves delirious. It was extraordinary.

So thanks for the memories, Craig. We'll be waiting for you in Cooperstown.

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