TODAY'S PAPER
44° Good Morning
44° Good Morning

KISSIMMEE, Fla.

Compared to all the other transitions that Craig Biggio has gone through,

this one is going to be a snap. This is going to be easier than switching from

football to baseball, Long Islander to Texan, catcher to second baseman, second

baseman to outfielder and back again.

It will be the most natural thing in the world for him to go from player to

Hall of Famer.

And it will be the most natural thing in the world for everyone else to

root for him on his last ceremonial step, getting the final 70 hits he needs to

reach 3,000.

His will be the good chase this season. While Major League Baseball and

fans almost everywhere hold very mixed feelings about Barry Bonds' joyless

march to the all-time home run title, it will be sheer fun to see Biggio close

in on one of baseball's true magic numbers.

Three thousand isn't a record, but it sure is elite. Unless Biggio gets

injured, he should get there as easily as he plowed through the line for Kings

Park High School in 1983. He still has that Hansen Award for being Suffolk's

top high school football player, displayed at home, alongside the Gold Gloves

he earned as a convert to second base.

"It's a great place for it," the 41-year-old player said the other day at

training camp, where he is preparing for his 20th season with the Astros, and

quite possibly his last in baseball.

Biggio was sitting at his locker stall, having sandwiches with sons Conor,

14, and Cavan, 11, in Astros uniforms after having spent the morning on the

field. Conor isn't much younger than Biggio was when he was deciding what he

wanted to do with his life, which wasn't being a baseball player.

He had fancied himself a big-time halfback, getting recruited by Boston

College, Clemson and Oklahoma. His grades weren't so great, though, and the big

boys lost interest. "At Division I schools, things move real quickly," he said.

So he was a reluctant baseball player at Seton Hall. "You turn the page.

That's part of life, things don't work out the way you want them to," he said.

"But I kind of believe in destiny. There's no doubt, the right thing happened."

He knows how blessed he is. He knows that Adriano Martinez, a teammate in

Connie Mack ball in 1984, could have had his own 20-year big-league career,

except that lightning struck and killed Martinez, the shortstop, on the

Patchogue-Medford High field one night. It spared Biggio, 25 feet away, playing

second base.

"It was him and it could have been me," Biggio said. "He was a great

player. Anything can happen in a heartbeat, so you just appreciate the time you

have."

That means not squawking when you're an All-Star catcher and your team

turns you into a second baseman to preserve your legs. He calls it the hardest

thing he has ever done aside from raising children (he and Patty also have a

daughter, Quinn, 7). Biggio always has believed that if your team asks you to

do something, you do it.

During training camp of 1992, he wore a paddle on his hand instead of a

glove. That was the idea of infield coach Matt Galante, the former Yankees

farmhand and Mets coach from St. John's who wanted his pupil to get in the

habit of catching with two hands. "I ended up missing the first two games of

spring training because my hand was so swollen," Biggio said.

No hard feelings. One of the four Gold Gloves Biggio won at the position

now sits in Galante's house as a gift. "All these transitions are not, 'All

right, I'll do it,'" Galante said. "They are, 'I'm going to do this and be the

best I can at this.' He's got great drive, and that's why he's going to the

Hall of Fame."

Biggio always has been loyal to the Astros, even as they shifted him all

around the field. No one ever has been an Astro longer. He is proud of having

been with one team for life, the way his idol Thurman Munson was.

He will bring glory to that uniform when he gets that 3,000th hit. He

doesn't talk about it much now, not wanting to be presumptuous. He's not

backing away from it, either. Paul Molitor, one of the 30 members of the

3,000-hit club and a Hall of Famer, once told him to just have fun with it.

It should be a good thing, a great thing," Biggio said. "And everybody

should enjoy it - my family, my friends, everybody."

Consider that done. Biggio is easy to pull for, from here to Cooperstown.

The hit parade

Most hits among active players:

Player Age Hits

Craig Biggio 41 2,930

Barry Bonds 42 2,841

Julio Franco 48 2,566

Steve Finley 41 2,531

Omar Vizquel 39 2,472

Ken Griffey Jr. 37 2,412

Gary Sheffield 38 2,390

Luis Gonzalez 39 2,373

Ivan Rodriguez 35 2,354

New York Sports