Influence of a Hall of Famer
Faith, family and hard work shape Biggio brothers
Intricate stitching embroiders the name Biggio on the back of the Notre Dame baseball uniforms for senior Conor Biggio and sophomore Cavan Biggio.
It's not having the Hall of Fame name of their father – Houston Astros legend Craig Biggio – emblazoned on their Fighting Irish jerseys that sets the Biggio brothers apart, although there is tremendous pride in that name.
It's more about what's inside the uniform, carrying in their hearts the characteristics and traits of Craig Biggio and his wife, Patty, into their academic, athletic and faith experiences at Notre Dame and carving their own legacies.
Craig Biggio will speak at this year's Notre Dame baseball Meet the Team banquet.
“The greatest days of my life were when my dad was playing,” said Conor. “We'd come home from school and get in the car and my dad and I would be at a Major League ballpark and a Major League clubhouse. Those memories will be with me for the rest of my life. They're the greatest times ever.”
Conor said his father's election to baseball's Hall of Fame was a deeply moving experience.
“When he got in the Hall, it was the most special moment for our family that we've ever had,” Conor said. “It's a moment we'll cherish forever.”
Craig will be taking time away from his job in the Houston Astros front office to speak at the Notre Dame banquet.
“For him to come up here and speak at the banquet, it's no surprise,” Conor said. “He comes up here as much as he can for our baseball games, but having him speak is a big deal, too.”
Conor said he expects a positive message from his father.
“He just tells you to go out and have fun and play each game like it's your last game,” Conor said. “That's what he tells everyone. Play it like it's the last time you'll put on cleats in your life. That's how he played the game.”
Fighting Irish head coach Mik Aoki said the Biggios set a gold standard in terms of family values.
“This is a wonderful family,” Aoki said of the Biggios. “They are incredibly grounded. If you were to meet them and have no idea who they are, and then to know what Craig has done and what he's been able to accomplish in this game … they're like the family next door.
“Their faith is important to them, their family is incredibly important to them. They're all supportive of each other. Their younger daughter, Quinn, is a phenomenal kid. They are a very tight family. I don't think Cavan is here without Conor. Hopefully, at some point we can get Quinn here, too.
“They're a wonderful family and really great people. Craig and Patty are very supportive of what we do here. They're not the helicopter type of parent you read about. They've been generous with their time and with their resources in helping our program and helping Notre Dame.”
Patty said her sons became students of the game growing up with an insider's view of a baseball culture.
“Craig wasn't always there to teach Conor and Cavan, to be at their games to make corrections or explain situations as they were happening,” Patty said. “My kids never had batting lessons when they were younger. Craig didn't do a lot of that. There wasn't the time.
“When he came in the door, we all missed him so much, so it really was more about family time. By the time he would come home on a Sunday from a road trip, they would try to wait up for him. He would always wake them up to spend some time with them. He was always great about that.”
Craig was always available as a baseball resource, but Patty also saw her sons develop astute powers of observation.
“The boys did go to a lot of games,” Patty said. “They were in the clubhouse, they would see guys prepare and they would hear the post-game conversations and interviews.
“I can remember when they would be in the stands, especially Cavan. He would sit there, and he wouldn't move the entire game. He stared and he watched the entire game. Conor had a lot more energy. He'd wave and try and get on the fan-cam. Cavan was really a student of the game. Conor was a student of the game, too, but he was so excited and moving around more than Cavan.”
Conor said he gained a tremendous amount of baseball knowledge from playing on a state championship baseball team at St. Thomas High School (Houston) coached by his father. Cavan also played on that team.
“I was real young when he was still playing, so I couldn't really grasp some of the stuff that he was saying, like I did when I was older. But from a player perspective, watching him play the game is exactly how I think everyone should play the game … give it your all, one hundred percent, get dirty, do whatever it takes for the team to win,” Conor said.
“The trait of his that stands out the most is do whatever it takes to win, do whatever the team asks you to do. If the team asks you to take a pitch, take a pitch. If the team asks you to bunt, bunt.”
Cavan, an Irish sophomore infielder, echoed his brother's sentiments about learning to play the game the right way.
“Hard work is the one trait of my father's that I've embraced the most,” Cavan said. “He taught me that you always have to work hard. Just because your name is Biggio, nothing is going to be handed to you. The other trait that stands out is selflessness. My dad played 20 years for one organization. It's not because he couldn't have played for anybody else, it's just because he was loyal to the city of Houston. He taught me to be selfless to my teammates, treat them right and work toward our common goal, a championship.
“My dad has been a tremendous resource, especially for a hitter. He's one of the best hitters of all time. He's a great resource when you want to go hit in the backyard and take some quick batting practice. He tells you what you need to work on. He's probably the best resource anybody could have. I'm really grateful for that.”
There also have been challenges for two young boys who have a father away from home for spring training and for 81 games during the regular season. Even home games meant early departures and late returns home.
“As far as him being on the road, that was the hardest part probably on my family, with my mom having to basically raise us by herself,” Conor said. “That's testimony to what a great woman she is. She's a Hall of Fame mother. In fact, if there's a higher place than the Hall of Fame for moms, she'd be there for sure. Without her, no one in this family would have been able to do what they've done.”
According to Cavan, Notre Dame is the perfect extension of his parents' teachings.
“At Notre Dame, what they teach is just like how my dad has lived his life and how he went about his career … selflessness, going about your faith every day, hard work, tradition … that's how my dad goes about his business, and it's how my brother and I have gone about our business in our lives.”
When Conor and Cavan put on the blue and gold Irish colors, their mother was delighted. She grew up in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in an Irish-Catholic neighborhood that took on reverent tones when Fighting Irish football flashed across the television screen in nearly every household.
“Most of the people in my neighborhood were Irish,” Patty said. “There were a lot of Notre Dame fans.”
Conor and Cavan both said they have appreciated the complete Notre Dame experience, emphasizing that faith is a major foundation in their family.
“I'm a product of Catholic schools, from kindergarten to college,” Patty said. “We're a very strong Catholic family. Craig went to Seton Hall. His coach was a strong Catholic and had a great impact on Craig. He was a Methodist, and he converted to Catholicism when he was at Seton Hall. He did that on his own.
“A Catholic education was very important to Craig and me when we were raising our children. They went to a Catholic grammar school, they went to a Catholic high school, and the ultimate would be not only going to a Catholic college, but also going to Notre Dame.”
When Craig speaks to the Irish faithful Monday night, Conor said the pride of being the Hall of Famer's son will resonate—and that his father and mother have always encouraged them to forge their own identities.
“There's always the idea that you have the last name, you have that on your back forever,” Conor said. “They can't take that away. It's something you embrace and something you're proud of, something you don't want to shy away from--but at the same time you want to be your own player. You don't want to be Craig Biggio, you want to be Conor, Cavan, Quinn Biggio. You want to be yourself. Don't try to be something he is. Be whoever you are, whatever that is. It's perfectly fine.”