Sept. 25, 2015
University of Notre Dame baseball players Conor Biggio and Cavan Biggio own a deep understanding of the legacy that their father, Baseball Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, carved out during his 20-year association with the Houston Astros – an unforgettable career and legacy built as much on hustle and integrity as it was on talent.
But for an even deeper understanding, all the Biggio brothers had to do was look out at a sea of blue-and-orange clad Houston Astros’ fans who dominated the crowd of more than 45,000 fans that turned out for the 2015 Baseball National Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Cooperstown, New York in July.
An outpouring of love from Houston fans, many of whom drove more than 1,700 miles to see Craig Biggio take his place in Baseball’s pantheon, was one of a myriad of touching moments for the Biggio Family during an emotion-packed weekend at baseball’s shrine.
“I think one of the best moments for me was seeing all of the people from Houston who came to the induction ceremony,” infielder Cavan Biggio says. “There were more Astros fans than other fans present during the weekend. It just showed how much our Dad meant to the city of Houston. The huge show of support showed us the loyalty that Astro fans have for my father and how much they appreciated how he gave everything to the game. They admired that he played the game the right way.”
Conor Biggio graduated in May from Notre Dame, and his brother, Cavan, is a junior at Notre Dame. Conor wore Fighting Irish colors on the baseball diamond for four seasons, and Cavan returns next season as one of the leaders for head coach Mik Aoki’s Irish in 2016.
Craig Biggio has been seen frequently at Notre Dame’s Eck Stadium, leaning against the green padding on top of the fence on the third-base side at Jake Kline Field, quietly watching his sons play the game that honored him in Cooperstown on July 26.
“My Dad loves what Notre Dame stands for,” Cavan says. “He’s very happy that Conor and I have been able to go to a school like Notre Dame, and play baseball here. My Dad loves to come here. He’s come here as often as he can to see us play.”
Craig Biggio made his mark as the only player in baseball history with at least 3,000 hits, 600 doubles, 400 stolen bases and 250 homers. Biggio pulled off the challenge of switching from a catcher to a second baseman. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame with Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and John Smoltz.
“It’s so tough for players from the steroid era to be elected to the Hall of Fame,” Cavan Biggio says. “It just says so much about my Dad, that he was able to get in the Hall of Fame. It wasn’t just his numbers, but the voters looked at his integrity. My Dad has always been dedicated to the game of baseball. He’s always said that you have to respect the game, and play the game the right way.
“I thought it was powerful when my Dad said that he gave the game everything he had, and that the game has given him everything. He always told us to play every game like it was our last.”
Cavan Biggio sat through the ceremony in a black suit in sweltering July heat in Cooperstown. That was the least of the challenges he faced getting to his seat for the ceremony.
Turning in an exceptional season in the fabled Cape Cod League for the Harwich Mariners, Cavan Biggio earned selection to the Cape Cod League All-Star Game. The All-Star Game in Wareham, Mass., was the day before the Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Cavan Biggio called his Dad to talk about whether or not he should miss the All-Star Game to be in Cooperstown for pre-induction events. He had a hunch what the answer was going to be before he called his father.
“My Dad told me that it was an honor to be selected for the All-Star Game, and it was important play in the game,” Cavan Biggio says. “My Dad has always had great respect for the game of baseball, and he taught Conor and I to have great respect for the game. He also felt it was important to give back to the game, because he got so much from it. He has always felt that players get so much from the game, and that they need to give back to it. It was a great honor for me to play in the game.
“I was fortunate that my coach at Harwich, Steve Englert, was the All-Star coach, and he understood the situation. He let me leave the All-Star Game after the sixth inning. I was very fortunate that a friend of my father allowed me to fly on a private jet to Albany, New York right after the game. We landed about 10 o’clock, and from there, I drove to Cooperstown. I got there about 12:30 (a.m.).”
Sunday’s induction was all about family for the Biggios.
“When my Dad spoke about his Mom, he choked up,” Conor Biggio says. “I knew that was going to be a tough moment. I know he was trying really hard to hold himself together. I typed up his speech for him, so I knew where his moments of emotion were going to come if they were going to come, and that was probably the one that I thought would have everybody in the family overcome with emotion.
“I thought it was the coolest when he singled out each person in our family, me, Cavan, my sister and my Mom. It was really special.”
Cavan Biggio agreed that the high point of his father’s Hall of Fame induction speech for him was on the topic of family.
“It was such a special moment,” Cavan Biggio says. “It was especially moving when my Dad talked about his parents. It really was a family moment. My Dad spoke about all of us. Really, none of this would have happened without my Mom (Patty). She basically raised us so my Dad could play baseball, and she deserves all the credit that he gave her.”
Craig Biggio’s love for family and baseball rang out frequently during his induction speech.
“He said the game has given him everything, and that he owes everything to the game of baseball,” Conor Biggio says of his father’s speech. “I think in his speech, he showed that he really respected the game, and that he appreciates everything in his life, and everything that the game of baseball gave him.
“My Dad made it a family moment, and that’s who my Dad is as a person. If you’ve ever been around my Dad, you know he’s a selfless person. He’s not all about himself. He’s all about the people around him, his friends, his family.
“His speech showed who he was as a person. He’s not the type of person who would take advantage of that moment for himself. He thanked all of the people who needed to be thanked, and helped him to get to where he is. I really appreciated that he was able to keep his family first and foremost in everything that he did. That shows his true character.”
Conor Biggio said that his father’s devotion to his family was evident when Craig Biggio coached his sons in baseball at St. Thomas Catholic of Houston. Craig Biggio celebrated two state titles with his sons. In 2011, Conor Biggio hit a walk-off single to put St. Thomas Catholic into the state championship game, and Cavan Biggio’s home run was the game-winner in the state title game. Those were moments that Conor said he and his family always would savor.
“As soon as he retired, my Dad felt like he needed to be around us as much as he could,” Conor Biggio says. “The coaching job at my high school opened up, and my Dad thought, what better to connect with my sons than coaching them? That proved to be an invaluable experience, not just from a chance to hang out with my Dad, but from a baseball standing point, for me, my brother, and my teammates, to have someone with that baseball knowledge around all the time. We won two state championships with my Dad around.
“Obviously, his baseball IQ is through the roof. When I look back on everything, the most impressive thing for me when I watched him coach was the way that he was able to connect to the next generation, to learn how to talk to kids, and what ways were receptive to them. Now, when he’s working with the Astros he is connecting with the younger guys, thanks to the experience he had coaching in high school. That experience has proven invaluable for him.”
For Conor Biggio, who now works for MLB Network but hopes to return to Notre Dame as a graduate student in the MBA program, a week in Cooperstown for his father’s Hall of Fame induction was a dream.
“The day itself was unbelievable,” Conor Biggio says. “Really, the entire week was unbelievable. I had my expectations. I knew it was going to be really special, but even the simple lunches throughout the week were spectacular. You’re sitting at lunch, and Rickey Henderson casually walks by. There were casual moments like that throughout the week. The day itself was truly amazing.
“All of the speeches were outstanding. Even now, a month or so later, it’s hard to put into words what it was like, except nothing but spectacular.”
–By Curt Rallo, Special Correspondent