HOUSTON -- Even though Craig Biggio played 20 seasons for the Astros and appeared in more games than any other player in franchise history, that didn't stop more than 1,000 people from filling Union Station and spilling into Minute Maid Park for another glimpse of the soon-to-be Hall of Famer.
Astros fans, many of whom braved cold, wet conditions to line up outside Minute Maid Park to gain entrance Friday afternoon, got their first chance to shower Biggio with appreciation since Tuesday when he became the first Astros player elected into the Hall of Fame.
The love for Biggio was evident. Fans chanted his name, held up signs and shouted "We love you!" often as he addressed them for about eight minutes near the end of the pep rally. Astros owner Jim Crane, president of business operations Reid Ryan and Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan also addressed the crowd, but Biggio was the man of the hour.
"I was a lucky man," he said. "Today I'm a lucky man for having an opportunity to stay here. I've had a lot of great people surround me my whole career, and Nolan was here when I started and that was the beginning of the journey. You never know how it's going to end up, but for me, all I wanted to do was to go out and play the game of baseball."
Biggio ended his career with franchise records of 3,060 hits and 668 doubles, but the thing that endeared him to Houston fans was his hustle.
"It means everything to who I was when I was 5 years old coming to games and when I was 17 years old and coming to games, and the years he's been here and watching him," Astros fan Jess Michalak said of the Hall of Fame nod. "Watching him finally be honored for the amazing things he's done for baseball and the game, it's been incredible to watch. It feels like Houston's going into the Hall of Fame as a city."
Biggio, in his third year on the ballot, received 82.7 percent of the vote in totals released Tuesday and will become the first player who played his entire career in Houston to make the Hall. Biggio, 49, will be enshrined in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 26 along with pitchers Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz.
"I love you guys, man," Biggio told the crowd. "I've stayed here for a long time. It's not warm outside and I know there was line wrapped around and I know there's people outside in a frigid stadium wanting to say 'Thank you,' and I love you all."
Houston mayor Annise Parker presented Biggio with a proclamation that Friday was Craig Biggio Day, and Texas state representative Sylvester Turner gave him a framed flag that had flown over the state capitol in Austin. Harris County also proclaimed Friday as Craig Biggio Day.
"This is a very special day for not only Craig and the city, but the fans," said Nolan Ryan, who plans to attend the induction ceremony of his former battery mate. "You can't help but get excited about it and extremely proud and happy for him."