Biggio's come a long way to No. 3,000
Second baseman strove to play the game like those before him
HOUSTON -- Craig Biggio joining the 3,000-hit club on Thursday night is a much a reminder of what makes baseball so great as it is testament to the Houston second baseman's 20 consecutive years of excellence.
We know this is so because if you saw Biggio as a baby-faced rookie catcher back in those dreary days in 1988, there's no way you envisioned this night in his future. Back then, Biggio was a skinny 22-year-old backup to Alex Trevino, not much more than an athletic kid with an uncertain future and clearly overmatched on most nights.
Had you witnessed Biggio then, playing -- and occasionally getting booed -- in front of crowds of 14,000 or so in the cavernous Astrodome, you could not have predicted that he would one day collect his 3,000th career hit a few miles away in front of an adoring standing-room-only crowd in the downtown ballpark his incredible career would help make possible.
Only in America.
And only in baseball can a 5-foot-11 catcher-turned-second baseman-turned-outfielder-turned-second baseman go from 22-year-old backup on a mediocre team to one of the greatest players in the history of the game.
Biggio has certainly earned a spot on that elite list after becoming just the 27th player in Major League history to record 3,000 hits, and only the ninth player in Major League history to collect 3,000 hits and spend his entire Major League career with one team. With the latter feat, he joins Stan Musial, Carl Yastrzemski, Cal Ripken, George Brett, Robin Yount, Tony Gwynn, Al Kaline and Roberto Clemente. (Clemente collected each of his 3,000 career hits with the Pirates though he was originally signed by the Dodgers and taken by Pittsburgh in the Rule 5 Draft).
"I'm older, slower and wiser [now]," Biggio said. "I think it's harder now than it probably was then. You're too dumb and young to realize it back then. Now, you're older and wiser, and understand the significance of everything and how hard it is to [hit 3,000]. I mean, that is such a massive number and it's just crazy, really thinking about it. I mean, to get that number and my name's next to it, I can't believe it right now, to be honest with you."
Biggio is the man, along with Jeff Bagwell, who helped turn around this franchise and bring the first National League pennant and World Series appearance to Houston.
Biggio is an icon in this city. His place in the fans' hearts is forever secured and his future in baseball, once threatened, is now on solid footing for at least another generation.
This memorable night only further cemented his place in baseball history as well as reminded us that greatness in this game can spring from unlikely sources, provided that source is blessed with talent and Biggio-like work ethic. Though it is easy to forget during the long passage of time, Biggio made the move from catcher to second base, but not before he made the All-Star team as a catcher.
From that inauspicious beginning in 1988 sprang a long and glorious career. He went on to become a seven-time All-Star, five-time Silver Slugger Award winner, four-time Gold Glove winner while setting 20 franchise and Major League records. He is the only player in Major League history to reach 600 doubles, 250 home runs, 3,000 hits and 400 stolen bases.
So here Biggio was at Minute Maid Park on Thursday night, some 20 years and 2,700 regular-season games since that forgettable rookie campaign, on the verge of adding another chapter to his legend. He needed three hits to reach 3,000 when the night began -- not an easy feat for any player, but the electricity from the crowd made you think Biggio might get it done right off the bat.
"Today, when he came in the clubhouse, you could tell he was locked in," Astros starter Roy Oswalt said. "It seemed like he was focused and wanted to get it done tonight."
Each time Biggio came to the plate, the fans rose en masse and roared. A chorus of camera flashes greeted each one of Colorado right-hander Aaron Cook's pitches, and when Biggio came to the plate in the seventh having gone 2-for-3, the anticipation was almost palpable.
Biggio had come a long way to reach this milestone. The fans had come out to pay him homage and perhaps catch a glimpse of history.
They got their wish at 9:14 p.m. CT, when Biggio lined a 2-0 fastball from Cook into center field for an RBI single. He was thrown out trying to stretch for double, and if you thought Biggio would stop at first base, you haven't been watching him hustle all these years. After two decades, the man still has only one gear.
The ovation lasted more than five minutes as teammates, Biggio's wife Patty and his children joined in the celebration. Bagwell joined his old friend on the field.
"I couldn't have scripted it any better," an emotional Biggio said afterward. "Today was just one of those days as a baseball player, with the way that the fans treated me. I've said for a long time I love this city, I've worked hard here, and they appreciated that. Pretty nice appreciation [and I'm] very grateful, very thankful. A lot of things have happened here over the course of 20 years but tonight I think is the best."
Hit No. 3,000 would have been enough for the fans, right then and there. But Biggio, a man who has always given his all, wasn't ready to call it a night.
He came to the plate again in the ninth inning and pushed a Manny Corpas pitch into right field for a single. Hit No. 3,001 enabled Biggio to pass Clemente for 26th place on the all-time list.
He still wasn't done. He singled in the 11th off Colorado closer Brian Fuentes, tying a career-high five hits and giving him 3,002 for his career. Biggio's hustle made that fifth single possible and helped set the stage for Carlos Lee's walk-off grand slam.
What an unforgettable game and an unbelievable night for this franchise.
And of course for the man himself.
"Everybody says, 'How's it feel to be in the 3,000-hit club?'" Biggio said. "Honestly, I just feel I play the game the same way the guys before me played the game. They ran everything out, ground balls, fly balls. No matter what, even the guys that aren't on that list, [like] Frank Robinson, they played the game the right way. I feel I did my part. I've been doing my part to play the game the same way they did and that's why I'm honored, because of all these names that I'm being associated with, because they played the game the right way."
As he has so many times, the former baby-faced rookie of two decades ago gave us more than we were expecting.
The only difference is, after 20 years and 3,000 hits, we should all know better by now.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.