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Craig Biggio: From Kings Park to Cooperstown

At left, Craig Biggio of the Houston Astros

At left, Craig Biggio of the Houston Astros looks on during a game in the 1989 season. At right, Biggio's Kings Park High School yearbook photo. Credit: Getty Images / David J. Philip, Kings Park High School

Craig Biggio spent his teenage years hitting baseballs and tossing newspapers onto the stoops of his Kings Park neighbors.

He delivered Newsday years before he would become a newsmaker on his way to a 20-year major-league career with the Astros that is celebrated today in Cooperstown with his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Biggio, who joins fellow Long Islander Carl Yastrzemski in the hallowed Hall, will be enshrined along with pitchers Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz. Yastrzemski, who grew up in Bridgehampton, was inducted in 1989.

Biggio, a seven-time All-Star, had 3,060 hits, 20th on the all-time list.

"I didn't play the game to get into the Hall of Fame,'' said Biggio, 49, who is in his seventh year as special assistant to the Astros' general manager. He lives in Houston with his wife, Patty, and three children.

"I played the game because I loved it,'' Biggio said by phone this month. "I owe the game everything I have. I appreciated every minute that I had. I didn't look at myself as a Hall of Fame type of guy. I looked at myself as a guy from Kings Park."


Biggio said he led an average life in Kings Park. His father, Gordon (who went by his middle name, Lee) was a traffic controller at MacArthur Airport. He died in 2007. His mother, Johnna, who died in 2009, kept house and raised Craig, his older brother Terry, his sister Gwen and the family dog, Shep.

"We had a nice but not over-the-top house," Biggio said. "We just lived by the means we had. I had my newspaper route, I had to mow the lawn. You had to do well in school and you had to do your sports. That's the way it was. I felt bad for the people on my route because they usually didn't get their paper until about 8 o'clock at night by the time I got home from my sports.''

Terry is a vice president with the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington, D.C.; Gwen lives on Long Island.

Biggio was the first ninth- grader in the Kings Park school system to play on the junior varsity baseball team, former coach John Bogenschutz told Newsday in 1983. The senior high school was grades 10-12 at that time.

Biggio went on to greatness in baseball, but he made his biggest high school splash in football. In his senior year, he rushed for 1,317 yards, scored 20 touchdowns and won Newsday's Hansen Award as Suffolk's top player in 1983. That trophy is in the Cooperstown cubicle containing mementos from Biggio's career.

But baseball was his future, and scouts from the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Phillies and Reds started to show up at what is now called Craig Biggio Field at the high school on Route 25A.

John Rottkamp, 68, his varsity baseball coach at Kings Park, said it was Biggio's determination and focus that set his catcher apart.

"He never let up. That was the bottom line," Rottkamp said of Biggio's high school career. "He had that determination, the concentration, the will to win and never give up. He played summer league ball nonstop.

"He always practiced," Rottkamp said. "Over Easter vacation we had practice in the morning, we had finished up and his father was jogging around. After the 2 1/2-hour practice, Craig just asked [if I could leave] the ball bag and a fungo bat because his father was going to hit more ground balls to him. After a 21/2-hour practice, there was no hesitation."

Biggio hit .410 with six home runs as a senior, Rottkamp said. He may have been the Kingsmen's star, but he was treated like everyone else. "On the first Saturday that we are outside after being in the gym, it was rake day,'' Rottkamp said. "Every kid would come with a rake and we'd rake all the rocks and everything off the field."

Everyone raked, including Biggio, and those rocks would play a big part in his future. Rottkamp played Biggio at shortstop in his junior year, but knowing he had a special player likely to be watched by college and pro scouts, he put him back behind the plate as a senior so the rocky field conditions would not cast Biggio in a negative light on defense.

"There are no bad hops behind the plate,'' the coach said.

Biggio continued as a catcher at Seton Hall, and the Astros took him in the first round (22nd overall) of the 1987 draft. In 1992, the Astros moved him to second base, where he played 1,989 major-league games. He also appeared in 363 MLB games as an outfielder.

Biggio is the eighth former Astros player elected to the Hall of Fame but the only one who spent his entire career with the team. He owns franchise records for games (2,850), hits, at-bats (10,876) and runs (1,844), and his 668 doubles set the major-league record for a righthanded hitter and rank fifth all-time. He also was the first to be an All-Star at both catcher and second base.


Kings Park has a population of 17,657, according to the U.S. Census 2009-2013 estimates. Located in the Town of Smithtown, the post office -- ZIP code 11754 -- is across the street from the east end of the high school's campus. A couple of blocks west, where Main Street (Route 25A) intersects Indian Head Road, stand the Kings Park volunteer fire department and the local branch of the Smithtown Library. The Long Island Rail Road station is about 200 steps south of the intersection.

"It's just a small little part of Long Island," Biggio said. "You never forget where you came from. You always remember your roots. I got great friends that are out there. It's a great place. I loved my childhood growing up.''

Once known for being the home of a sprawling but now-closed state psychiatric hospital, today Kings Park can boast Hall of Famer Craig Biggio.

"That he comes from small-town Kings Park, it's just an awesome story," said Duke Durland, 46, who grew up watching Biggio play in high school and later served as Kings Park's varsity baseball coach. "I had nothing to do with his accomplishments, but the thought to have that little small moment in time where I could say I saw him play, it's pretty remarkable.''

Durland, now a Kings Park High School physical education teacher, said he idolized Biggio, who was three years ahead of him in school.

"The game would take a shift whenever he was up,'' Durland said. "He was so much better than everyone else he was playing against. We didn't have a fence then. You would see outfielders play -- to me as a 14-year-old kid -- a quarter of a mile away. Their backs were up against a railroad track."

Biggio was inducted into the Kings Park Athletic Hall of Fame as a founding member in 1993.


It took three tries for Biggio to gain election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. His plaque will hang next to that of former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas, who was inducted last year, when Biggio fell short by only two votes.

"It worked out,'' Biggio said. "When you don't control it, you can't really agonize over it. It's done, the resume has been sent up, hopefully the people like the resume.

"I didn't take anything for granted. I've always treated the game that I was playing like it was going to be my last. The reality is you never know if anything is going to be your last. That was my motto in the big leagues and it worked out well for 20 years.''

Biggio has invited several of his high school coaches, including Rottkamp and football coaches Jay "Doc'' Holliday, Bogenschutz and Kevin Johnston. Biggio also saluted the late Marty Hasenfuss, the youth travel team coach who he said helped him gain exposure beyond Long Island.

Sometime after 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Kings Park's own Craig Biggio will be formally introduced to Cooperstown. The words on his plaque will be read, and Biggio will make his acceptance speech.

His theme? "Dream big,'' he said, "because you never know what's going to happen.''

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