COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- During his 20-year playing career, former Astros second baseman Craig Biggio forged his way into the hearts of baseball fans in Houston with his hustle, his talent and the pride in which he wore the uniform and respected the game.
And on a warm Sunday afternoon before 45,000 fans -- many of whom were wearing orange Astros jerseys -- Biggio's success on the baseball field earned him the ultimate honor, induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Biggio, who was inducted alongside John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson, spoke with class, dignity and humility during a 17-minute acceptance speech in which he thanked those who helped him on his journey while battling his emotions at times.
"What an incredible honor it is to be standing in front of these great men," Biggio said as he began his speech. "I've played against a lot of them, I admired a lot of them, I respected all of them."
With dozens of Hall of Famers sitting behind him on the dais, Biggio became the first player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame wearing an Astros cap. The cap logo on his plaque is the open star he donned for the final eight years of his career.
"The Hall of Fame decided on that one," Biggio said. "That was the one that kind of, I thought, was the coolest and looked good. I think that's the one we got the World Series in, too, so it's fitting for that."
The inscription below Biggio's name on his plaque begins, "Gritty spark plug who ignited Astros offense for 20 Major League seasons." He said having the word "gritty" was perfect for a guy who was often covered in dirt from head to toe and had years of pine tar caked on his helmet.
When it came time for his speech, Biggio said "it takes a little bit of talent and a lot help along the way" to reach Cooperstown. He spoke about his days growing up in Kings Park, N.Y., and choked up when he mentioned his late parents, Lee and Johnna Biggio. He credited his mother, who died in 2009, as the "rock."
"I know she's happy today," he said. "I miss you so much."
Biggio talked of the afternoon newspaper route he had as a kid, but he often delivered it late because baseball consumed his life. It was on his route that he met Christopher Alden, who died of leukemia at age 8. That inspired Biggio to become the national spokesman for the Sunshine Kids, an organization that helps kids with cancer and their families.
"I made a promise to them that if I was ever in a situation or position to give back, I would," he told the crowd. "The Sunshine Kids are a big part of my life, and one of the reasons I stayed in Houston for 20-plus years."
Biggio spoke about his youth football and baseball coaches and college coaches instilling hard work and hustle into him at an early age. He thanked Astros scout Clary Anderson for drafting him in 1987 out of Seton Hall. He was scouted in New Jersey by Astros owner John McMullen.
"He was like a father figure to me," Biggio said in the speech. "We did a lot of things together off the field. Dr. McMullen kept baseball in Houston when the franchise was struggling. How many owners come watch a prospect work out in the gym in the middle of winter? McMullen and Yogi Berra did that."
Former Astros owner Drayton McLane, who was in attendance, also earned special recognition from Biggio. He owned the team for much of Biggio's career (1993-2007).
"I was loyal to Drayton, and he was loyal in return," Biggio said at the podium. "Drayton, you were my boss and my owner, but most importantly you were my friend."
Former Astros coach Matt Galante, who helped Biggio make the transition from catcher to second base in 1992, was asked by Biggio to stand and be recognized during his speech. Biggio gave Galante the first Gold Glove Award he won at second base.
"If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here today," Biggio told reporters later. "I just felt Matty's a baseball lifer. He's given his whole life to baseball. He's done some amazing things with infielders, and I wanted to make sure he got the credit he deserved."
Several of Biggio's teammates were at the ceremony, including Jeff Bagwell, Adam Everett, Bill Spiers, Tim Bogar, Wade Miller and Mike Gallo. He said he learned how to respect the game from guys he played with early in his career like Nolan Ryan, Billy Doran, Buddy Bell and Terry Puhl.
"Being around these guys taught me how to respect the game and play the game the right way day in and day out," Biggio said. "It was always about the team."
Perhaps no teammate had a bigger influence on Biggio than the late Ken Caminiti, who was a close friend. His wife, Nancy, and daughters Kendall, Lindsey and Nicole were at the ceremony.
"Your father has given us an amazing relationship," he told them.
The late Darryl Kile and former teammates Moises Alou, Brad Ausmus and, of course, Bagwell also were recognized by Biggio. Bagwell himself could find his way into the Hall of Fame in the coming years, which would be fitting considering the legacy they carved together.
"We played 15 years together and changed the culture in Houston by making it a baseball town," Biggio told the audience. "We both got to live our dreams together by playing in the big leagues side by side. Thanks for being here today. It really means a lot."
Toward the end of his speech, Biggio made it about his family. He spoke glowingly about his sons, Conor and Cavan, and daughter, Quinn. He and his wife, Patty, celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary earlier this year, and he thanked her for "keeping things normal" for the kids when he was on the road.
"Once I got up there and was able to look at them, it was, 'Let's enjoy this moment together, and let's try to do it as well as we can,'" Biggio told reporters. "I was really happy for my family, obviously."
And for the Astros fans, who showed up in force in Cooperstown to share the moment with Biggio and his family.
Astros fans finally have their Hall of Famer.
"For them to come to this and enjoy this time together, as many of them that came to enjoy this time together, it was just a great day," Biggio told reporters after. "It was a blast."