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Craig Biggio salutes LI roots in Hall of Fame speech

National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Craig Biggio,

National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Craig Biggio, right, holds his plaque with hall president Jeff Idelson during an induction ceremony at the Clark Sports Center on Sunday, July 26, 2015, in Cooperstown, N.Y. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - Craig Biggio gave everything he had to the speech, which meant he approached it the way he did every ballgame.

With deep emotion, he spoke of his late parents, his coaches, even his old newspaper route. All of it added up to a message that said you absolutely can get there from here, with "there'' being anywhere you want to go, including the Baseball Hall of Fame.

And "here,'' as he made abundantly clear at the start of his address under a bright sun before an estimated 45,000 people, is Kings Park, where he began dreaming big.

Biggio was enshrined Sunday on a field five blocks from the museum where his new plaque will stand forever. The cap on his likeness in the Hall bears the logo of the Astros, who are based in Houston, which is now his home. But he made it clear that Long Island always will be part of him.

"My journey started in a little town called Kings Park, New York, not too far from here,'' he said early in his remarks as he stood near fellow 2015 inductees Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz -- in front of icons including Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver and Whitey Ford.

When the winner of the 1983 Hansen Award as Suffolk's best high school football player mentioned his hometown, some people in the vast crowd let out a yell. "I hear you,'' he said.

His voice shook when he mentioned his late parents, Lee and Johnna: "Two hard-working people who are no longer here. But I know they're watching.''

He recalled how his father used to tie rope around his waist and attach the other end to the backstop during batting practice to prevent the young hitter from lunging.

"It worked, but I came home every day with rope burns around my waist,'' said Biggio, who joined Carl Yastrzemski as the only Long Islanders in the Hall.

Biggio grew most emotional when he spoke of his mother, whom he called the "rock'' for himself, his brother and sister. "We spent a lot of time together, traveling from field to field,'' he said. "I know she's happy today. I miss you so much, Mom.''

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred read the inscription on Biggio's plaque, and it started with a description of him as a "gritty sparkplug who ignited Astros offense for 20 major league seasons.'' Biggio later said it was all such an exciting blur that he didn't remember what the plaque said. But the truth is, his famous level of effort had its roots on the Island, too.

"Growing up in Kings Park, I had three responsibilities: school, sports and I had a job. My job was, I had a newspaper route. It was an afternoon newspaper, Newsday,'' he said. "Most of the time, I didn't get home until 7 or 7:30 [p.m.]. That's when people on my route eventually got the paper. Sorry about that.''

Among the families on that route were the Albens, who lost a child to leukemia. He said the interest he took in their family led to a lifelong concern for children with cancer, which led him to be national spokesman for the Sunshine Kids charity, which led him to settle in Houston to work on it.

It is all a part of getting there from here. Houstonians clearly appreciate it. They showed up in huge numbers with strong voices. They loudly chanted "Big-gee-oh!''

"I can tell you this: He has brought a lot of pride to the Houston market, the entire region, the state of Texas -- even though he's from up north,'' said Craig Atkins of Houston, one of hundreds wearing Astros jerseys.

Biggio credited many who enabled the journey. He gave special attention to former Astros coach Matt Galante of Brooklyn, who spent hours converting Biggio from an All-Star catcher to a Gold Glove second baseman. "I'm not here without that man,'' said Biggio, who also played the outfield late in his career.

Cooperstown is the new "here'' in his life, and his wife, Patty, and their three children comprise the most important element for the man who once was one of three kids growing up on Long Island.

From the podium, he told his children he looks forward to seeing where their journeys take them. He was genuinely touched at how his turned out.

"I gave the game everything I had every day,'' the grown-up kid from Kings Park said. "The game has given me everything -- my family, my friends, respect, but most of all, memories for a lifetime.''

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