He was now on the Cross Bronx Expressway, a link between New Jersey and Long Island. As Biggio drove past the exit to Yankee Stadium, the conversation returned to baseball. "My father was a catcher in high school, and he got me started in baseball," Biggio said. "I liked catching because I wanted to control the game. I wasn't a Mets fan or a Yankees fan—I just liked to play—but the one guy I loved was Thurman Munson." In the Spring Lake house, in a part of the finished basement that could be an exhibit at Cooperstown, Biggio has one of Munson's bats prominently displayed. The bat has no knob on the bottom, and Biggio, a career .285 hitter, has used that style since his college days.
Biggio was primarily a catcher at Kings Park High for three seasons and then caught at Seton Hall for three years, in the minors for two seasons and in the majors his first four years. At the conclusion of the 1991 season Astros manager Art Howe took Biggio to lunch. Howe asked him if he would be willing to move to second base. Lunch took two hours.
"He said it would extend my career," recalled Biggio, who is listed at 5'11", 180 pounds but appears smaller. "He said it would help the team, let the team take more advantage of my speed, but he also said they weren't going to force me. I went home to Patty. We're a good team on making big decisions like this. She said to me, 'Do you think you can do it?' And I said, 'Yeah.' I wanted to do it because everybody said I couldn't. I'm stubborn."
Biggio had had brief experiences playing the infield before, and they had not been good. Late in the 1991 season, a woeful year for Houston, Howe put Biggio at second for a three-game series against the San Francisco Giants, and Biggio felt as if he were serving a jail sentence in a foreign country. The summer before he started college, Biggio was making a rare appearance at second when his team's shortstop was struck and killed by lightning. After that, in college and in the minors and the majors, Biggio almost never strayed from behind the plate.
"I felt like a Little Leaguer again," Biggio said, remembering his first workouts in preparation for the 1992 season. "That winter I spent a lot of time at an elementary school, taking grounders off a brick wall. I went to spring training with the pitchers and catchers, worked a ton with [third base coach] Matt Galante. He never made the majors, but he's a great coach. I'm like, 'What's this? No chest pad? No shin guards? This little glove?' At first he made me take infield wearing this paddle taped to my wrist. I had to stop the ball with the paddle. If you didn't stop it right in the middle of the paddle, it really hurt. I took about a thousand balls a day with that. Galante said it would develop soft hands. He was right. After I won my first Gold Glove in '94, I said, 'Matty, half of this is yours.' "
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Biggio is one of only two big leaguers ever to play at least 100 games at both catcher and second base. The other was Tom Daly, who played for five teams between 1887 and 1903, including 12 seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Also, Galante should have a whole Gold Glove trophy by now: Biggio won the award again last year.
Biggio pulled into the Kings Park High parking lot. It was midafternoon. After-school sports were starting. Biggio doesn't come to Kings Park much, not since his parents separated and left town almost five years ago. He entered the school, asked around for old coaches. Within minutes a dozen students had surrounded him. Biggio talked to them as if he were in high school himself. One kid asked him, "How good's your memory?" Biggio, challenged, said, "You gonna test it?" The high schooler raised the name of an old girlfriend of Biggio's, and Biggio smiled. He found his way to the corridor that houses the Kings Park Athletic Booster Club Hall of Fame. Biggio was the first inductee. Two custodians, Bob Woessner and Richard Weisse, were at work there.
"This is my section," Woessner said. "I keep it nice and clean for you."
"Looks good," Biggio said. "I haven't been here in a long time."
"You've got a new life now," Weisse said.