Craig Biggio is living the dream.
One of the few Major League Baseball players to spend an entire career in the same uniform, the former Houston Astros second baseman isn’t just the first player in team history to make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Nearly a decade after hanging up his glove, Biggio has just scored a pro player’s retirement fantasy: a namesake sports bar in his hometown’s hottest entertainment zone.
Rubbing elbows and posing for selfies with adoring fans. Signing autographs and sharing memories with grandpas and grandsons who can recite every play of his best (and worst) games. His favorite steak sandwich, made from his wife’s special recipe, and more than two dozen properly chilled craft beers on tap. And not an ounce of his own skin in the game.
Can it get any better than this? Biggio doesn’t think so.
“I love the fans; they’ve been great to me,” Biggio says as he guides me through what just might be the coolest sports bar outside of Vegas. “I love my life. I love working for the Astros, and I love this bar.
“As a player, I was always an arm’s reach away in the uniform. Now, when I’m retired, I’m in with the fans. People come up and want to take pictures and do autographs. They tell each other about some play they saw, and they smile, and it’s really special and means a lot to me.”
When the Mitzner family approached Biggio about fronting a sports bar in their glitzy new Marriott Marquis hotel, across from downtown’s George R. Brown Convention Center, “I knew it was a home run,” he says, flashing his trademark grin.
“We knew Craig was the perfect face for this gathering spot,” said Steven Mitzner, vice president of his family-owned Marriott Marquis. He credits the fan-building performance of Biggio’s 1990s-era “Killer B’s” with encouraging Houston city fathers to build a baseball stadium in downtown’s sleepy convention district. That sparked a renaissance that culminated in Discovery Green, the basketball and soccer arenas, the light rail system, all that’s new and exciting about downtown.
“The Astros ushered in all the development we see in the east side of downtown,” Mitzner said. “In a way, Craig and the Killer B’s were responsible for everything.”
Wedged between Minute Maid Park two blocks to the east and Toyota Center two blocks west, Biggio’s may prove to be the missing link in forging a year-round entertainment mecca for this sports-crazy town. Mitzner is already drawing up plans for weekend brunches before Astros matinees and Texans games, which might be best enjoyed from one of Biggio’s breezy balconies overhanging the park, where you can watch one of the jumbotron-sized TVs through the window. And now that the kitchen has the basic wings-burgers-ballpark snacks trifecta figured out, he said, the chefs are starting to venture into broader territory.
“We already get a strong businessman’s lunch, and we’re hoping to build into happy hour,” Mitzner said, targeting office workers killing time before heading to the game.
The bar’s enormous big screen TVs – two of which measure a whopping 330-inches diagonally – lure luxury-seeking couch potatoes to rows of deep leather loungers or overstuffed sofas and banquets. That’s where Biggio watched the Texans vs. Patriots game in January. “These are great seats,” he says of the loungers.
Chefs on my visit were still perfecting their version of Patty Biggio’s family-favorite sandwich – sliced steak, lettuce, tomato and mayo on a buttered toasted English muffin. Biggio proclaims the chefs’ latest experiment a hit, even though the kitchen had sexed up the sandwich with crispy onion rings and a spicy aioli not found on the original. Juicy fried chicken and waffles with sriracha-tinged honey was spot on, as were tender brisket tacos. Biggio professes sweet love for the bar’s soft pretzels, too, but there are none on hand to sample.
The hotel’s publicist sent over the recipe for the No. 7 (photo below, recipe at bottom of article), a lemon-honey infused whiskey cocktail tagged with Biggio’s old jersey number, which management insists is the house specialty. Craig has never heard of it, saying he usually orders wine or a little Tito’s and cranberry juice, although “that is so boring,” he adds sheepishly.
When asked if he misses his time on the diamond, Biggio answers without hesitation: “No. Most guys have the game taken away from them, through injuries or they don’t have the skill set anymore. I got to write my own script. It was time for me to walk away. Now, I get my enjoyment out of watching other guys get their success,” like Jose Altuve or George Springer, racking up their own records, building new fan bases.
Although he claims to have lived his life without regrets, Biggio does confess to one, and it was instrumental in why he stepped away from professional ball.
“I only had four more years to spend with my oldest son, and then he’d be gone [to college],” Biggio says of his decision to retire in 2007. “I was gone his whole life. I’d be home for three days, then gone 10. I was always on the road. My wife practically raised our sons and daughter on her own.
“I wasn’t there if he had a bad game, when he came off the field, to put my arm around his shoulder and tell him everything was going to be alright. I do regret that.”
That’s why, he says, coaching both sons to the Texas private school 5A state championship with St. Thomas’ baseball team in 2010 and 2011 remains a centerpiece of his lifetime highlight reel. If he hadn’t retired when he did, he’d never have had that experience.
Biggio’s sons are grown now, with 21-year-old Cavan, playing second base for the Toronto Blue Jays’ minor league team. The pair was throwing the ball around during a recent visit when Cavan drilled one into the old man’s elbow, plunking him so hard it swelled up like a purple golf ball, judging from the photo on Biggio’s iPhone. Maybe that’s what the bar should name its signature cocktail: The Plunk or No. 285, to celebrate Biggio’s record for baseball’s second-highest hit-by-pitch tally.
Biggio won’t say how often he’ll be in the lineup at the bar, although management was clear the player would mix it up with locals on a regular basis. While he might be tempted to skip out on Minute Maid to watch the occasional Astros game on one of the bar’s jumbotrons from a leather lounger, Biggio says he’s loyal to his responsibilities as a special assistant to the Astros GM, doing whatever the team asks. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be ducking in before or after a game, often with some of his family in tow.
“It’s all about the fans. We took this ride together,” Biggio says. He was stunned and humbled when more than 30,000 fans trekked to Cooperstown, NY, to watch his induction into the Hall of Fame in 2015. “It’s not easy to get there, and expensive, and it was just a sea of orange shirts at the parade,” he says. “One guy told me he drove 24 hours to get there, and I said that was so cool, thank you, man!”
Biggio offered one more thought. “The further removed you get from the game, the less you can believe you did that for a living. I was lucky enough to play for Houston my whole career. Houston is my hometown. We did this journey together.”
1½ oz. Tin Cup Whiskey
¾ oz lemon juice
¾ oz. honey syrup
lemon peel twist (for garnish)
METHOD: Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into a coupe and garnish with lemon twist.