COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - Having visited a few times and having been around here a lot this week, Craig Biggio is emphatic about the Hall of Fame. "If you're a baseball fan, it's a must-see," he said Saturday afternoon. "And I'm not saying this because I'm going in now, I'm saying it in general.
"It's the history of the game, where it has come from and where it's going now."
Of course, it is not just where the game has come from. It is where Biggio and his fellow members of the Hall of Fame Class of 2015 all have come from. That is what is welling up in their stomachs and their hearts as they get themselves warmed up for where they are all going next -- to a big stage for induction and then to their places among the immortals in the museum on Main Street in this little upstate town.
"My childhood growing up in Kings Park was great, man. I loved it," said Biggio, who will become only the second Long Island native inducted into baseball's shrine, following Carl Yastrzemski of Bridgehampton. "I had great coaches. There were great people, great families. The reason why I got involved in the Sunshine Kids was my first introduction to a kid who had cancer when I was 14, 15 years old. I love where I grew up. It was very normal."
Biggio was inspired to spearhead a youth charity in Houston by the death of Chris Alben, 8, more than 30 years ago. Biggio, 17 at the time, befriended Chris' brother, Chuck, 6, in a relationship that inspired both sides.
"It's part of the journey, when you say you did it together,'' Biggio said. "You have the talent but you also have people who impacted your life along the way, in whatever means that was."
Biggio will be joined in the ceremony by Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz, arguably the Hall's greatest pitching class since the inaugural year of 1936, when Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson and (former pitcher) Babe Ruth got in.
All of them are humbled, and proud of how they got here.
Martinez spoke with reporters Saturday about his roots in the Dominican Republic, where his family had few resources and he was seen as just a skinny kid. He said his speech Sunday will be in English and Spanish -- "Which is a little more difficult than people might think," he said -- and he promises it will be uplifting in both.
"I want to be a sign of hope for society. It doesn't matter where -- the United States, Africa, Latin America, everywhere. I want to represent the people who want to find a way out," he said.
Martinez dismissed a comment by radio commentator Colin Cowherd that has been widely considered critical of Dominican players.
"I'm not at that level, I'm sorry,'' Martinez said. "I'm dealing here with educated people, I'm dealing here with polite people who understand human rights."
As the first Dominican player elected since Juan Marichal in 1983, he vowed that it will not be 32 years before there is another. And after first rejecting Alex Rodriguez as a future candidate, he changed course and said of players found to have used steroids, "I hope they all make it, to be honest." He is pleased with the pitching statistics he compiled "in what they said was the juiced era."
Smoltz said his speech will personally thank Tommy John, who called to dissuade Smoltz from quitting when he was faced with Tommy John surgery at 34. "He said, 'John, don't do it, you've got a lot of career left. I pitched 11 years afterward,' '' Smoltz said. "It motivated me to go through the process."
Johnson appeared as a much more thoughtful, cheerful figure than he was during a dominant but glowering career. At his table during informal news conferences, he reflected on the emotional high of his major-league debut with the Expos and acknowledged that one of the great motivations in his life now is caring for his widowed mother.
"She has been waiting for this probably longer than I have," he said. "She was a big part of my career, driving me to my first Little League practices."
But the sights and sounds of Cooperstown this weekend have Biggio written all over them. He received the loudest cheers and chants at Doubleday Field Saturday afternoon during a ceremony honoring Spink Award winner Tom Gage, a longtime baseball writer for the Detroit News, and Frick Award winner Dick Enberg, the veteran network and local announcer.
Astros fans have been arriving by the planeful. They do acknowledge his Long Island roots, but they point out he lives in Houston. Biggio appreciates the fact that his will be the first Hall plaque bearing an Astros logo.
"I was loyal to the city, I was loyal to our organization. To be able to be the first guy to go in, I'm glad that we've got a guy in there now, you know what I'm saying? That means a lot to me, it means a lot to my teammates that I played with over the years and it means a lot to the city," said the man who will have yet another home, as of Sunday, right here in Cooperstown.
"If you're a baseball fan," he said, "this is a place you've got to come see."