Summer time has a particular feel to it. It’s not just about the sweltering heat. It’s about a certain way of life that includes trips to the beach, grilling burgers and hot dogs, running about in bare feet, and enjoying baseball. There was a time when almost every little boy joined Little League and collected trading cards tucked in between long thin slices of bubble gum. In the long hot days when school was out and baseball was king even dedicated businessmen sometimes played hooky from work on days when the hometown team played an afternoon game.
In Houston we have been cheering the Astros for most of my adult life. They were originally known as the Colts as in the 45 caliber gun made famous in the old west. They played in an outdoor stadium until their new home, a modern day wonder known as the Astrodome was finally built. They were eventually christened with a different team moniker more befitting of a city where the country’s space program was headquartered. They were rebranded as the Astros which given today’s politically correct environment was no doubt a really good thing. Surely there would have ultimately been a hue and cry about a team named for an iconic pistol.
The Astros have had some stunning moments and memorable players like Nolan Ryan but perhaps there has been no more incredible time than the early to the mid-two thousands when a group of players known as the “Killer Bs” unleashed their power on team after team and took the Astros all the way to the World Series for the first time in history. Anchoring this group was Craig Biggio, a gifted player who had spent his entire professional career as a Houston Astro, and what a career it was.
Craig Biggio hailed from Long Island, New York. He was a gifted athlete who literally had the abilities to play virtually any sport that he chose. He was offered a football scholarship after graduation from high school but decided instead to follow his heart and join the Seton Hall baseball team. He was a first round pick for the Houston Astros and he would go on to become one of the most beloved players of that franchise. Amazingly he was so talented that he became the first man ever to be an All Star as both catcher and infielder. His bat was steady and reliable and he electrified his team and the crowds who came to see him. When he joined his heavy hitting with Lance Berkman and Jeff Bagwell the Astros became legendary and the seats were filled with fans who were rarely disappointed.
Unbeknownst to Craig Biggio his greatest all time fan rarely made it to any of the games at the ballpark. Instead she kept her radio tuned to a local Houston station that carried the play by play of every Astros outing. No matter where the schedule took the team she never missed an inning. For her baseball, and particularly the Houston Astros, was a kind of religion. Win or lose she stayed with them, often until late in the night when she would lie on her bed listening intently to the announcer describing exactly what was happening.
Of course that person was my mom, Ellen Little. She seemed to have baseball in her blood. It was her passion and it showed itself in her enthusiasm for the Astros even when they were not doing particularly well. She collected baseball cards and memorabilia. She spoke of the players as if they were reincarnations of the Greek gods. To her there was no better game than baseball and no more talented athletes than the boys of summer. Among her all time favorites was Craig Biggio.
This past weekend Craig Biggio was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. My mother would have insisted that this honor was long overdue. I have little doubt that she was watching over the ceremony from her heavenly perch and celebrating as loudly and joyously as the many fans who travelled to Cooperstown to watch this historic moment. At long last one of the truly good guys who had played his entire professional career with the Houston Astros was being recognized for the incredible player that he always was.
Craig Biggio gave a speech that was so typical of him. He honored the city that had embraced him and the players who had worked with him for twenty years. He spoke of his love of family and pride in his three children. He impressed everyone with his humility and his genuine goodness of spirit. Houstonians would be hard pressed to have a better representative for our great city. Craig Biggio is all of the things that make our town more open and friendly that other metropolises. He is a very good man who gave as much service to the community as he did in the batter’s box.
There has been a resurgence in the Houston Astros of late and most of us who have been around for awhile think that it is not coincidental that Craig Biggio is helping with the coaching. He has a magical talent and understanding of the game and of people that is uncanny. He did some coaching at St. Thomas High School where his sons played the game he so loves and his efforts took the team to the state championship. Now the city is in a state of disbelief as our team is slated to have the first winning season in a number of years. Craig Biggo is back and he is a huge hero in Houston.
Mike watched the ceremony at Cooperstown this weekend and I caught bits and pieces of it as I puttered about the kitchen. It wasn’t surprising to witness the composure and gentlemanly demeanor of Craig Biggio as he received the honor that he so deserved. I couldn’t help but think of my mom and how elated she would have been. It almost felt as though she was right there with us watching this momentous occasion. It felt like summer and it felt so right.
Baseball isn’t quite as popular as it once was and that is a bit sad. I remember warm summer afternoons when my brothers played with their Little League teams. It was a great time for two boys without a dad. Men from the neighborhood became their mentors and helped them to feel part of something bigger than themselves. They learned the importance of teamwork and practice and effort. They pushed themselves to their personal bests. For those of us watching it was so much fun and the source of priceless memories. Perhaps there may even have been a young man or two who went on to take a high school, or college, or even a professional teams to victory. Mostly though it was about having fun.
All of us in Houston are happy for Craig Biggio. He gave us quite a run and we can’t think of anyone that who is more deserving of this honor. I know that my Mama is beaming and swelling with pride and boasting to everyone in heaven who will listen. Her boy, Craig, has done well and all is right with the world.