Here is a reprint of an article from the Houston Chronicle about how a shortstop playing American Legion ball with Craig Biggio was killed by a lightning strike on the field during a game. The incident was published as part of a column following the tornados that swept through central Florida during training in the spring if 1998.
By DALE ROBERTSON Staff
KISSIMMEE, Fla. - On a perfect sunny Tuesday, the Astros returned to work, ever mindful that what they really do is play.
Work was what was going on little more than 100 yards from these green fields of dreams, at what remained of the ruined Ponderosa RV Park.
"We're playing ball over here," Billy Wagner observed, "and those people over there don't have a place to live anymore."
Professional athletes tend to be short on introspective skills, but the Astros were definitely moved, and humbled, by the events of early Monday morning, when one of several tornadoes to savage the Orlando area stuck its vile nose right squarely in their business. While none of them or their family members would be injured or even unduly inconvenienced by a tragedy that snuffed out 13 lives in their back yard, the carnage earned their undivided attention.
It was a wake-up call, if you will, a reminder of how good they have it and how fortunate they are to have been left unscathed by such a deadly storm. And no one was more appreciative of the capricious nature of fate than Craig Biggio.
Leery of lightning
"I don't think about lightning as much as I used to," Biggio said. "But I started to again, yesterday and today."
Mother Nature appears to be a big fan of Houston's veteran second baseman. She has now spared him her full fury twice.
For Biggio, this wasn't an especially close call. Where he's staying was some eight miles from the nearest swath of deadly destruction. Still, there were fellow Astros who themselves had cheated death in their battered neighborhood. And the thunder did wake him - to a pyrotechnical spectacular that had erupted in what was supposed to be a pitch-dark night sky.
It chilled him to the bone.
"I used to be really afraid of lightning ," he said. "I thought I was over it, but I guess I'm not."
He is afraid of lightning because of what happened on an American Legion baseball field a long time ago. He was bound for college at Seton Hall - and eventually, of course, stardom in the major leagues - when he went to second base that hazy summer afternoon. Although lightning could be seen on the New Jersey horizon, nobody paid it much mind.
"I mean, who gets hit by lightning , right?" Biggio said.
That day, his team's shortstop did. A bolt literally out of the blue above struck the youngster directly in the chest.
One second, they were waiting for the hitter to step into the batter's box; the next, Biggio was curled up in the fetal position in the infield dirt, out cold. For a conscious moment, he had experienced a strange burning sensation in the back of his legs and upper body, then he went down.
He came to quickly enough, however, to see the shortstop sprawled not 20 feet from him, his uniform in tatters and the sock on one ankle in flames.
Emergency assistance came quickly. It didn't matter. The kid - a nephew or a cousin of Manny Mota, as Biggio recalls - never stood a chance.
"I went to the hospital," Biggio said, "not because I was hurt myself but to see if he was going to make it. We didn't think he would, and he didn't.
"I haven't handled lightning very well since." Compelled to help
Now this. Suffice it to say his phobia is back, full bore. And not surprisingly, Biggio was among the ramrods of a hat-passing before practice Tuesday. Every Astro, the present minor-leaguers included, dug into his pocket, and the cash, almost $7,000, will be sent to the Red Cross for distribution to Ponderosa Park's victims.
With a matching contribution from owner Drayton McLane Jr., who has a food-distribution warehouse in Kissimmee besides his spring-based baseball team, the sum will at least pay for many short-term daily essentials, if not new homes or fully repaired lives.
"It doesn't matter who you are or what your color is or how much money you make," Biggio said. "You have to pull together. You've got to be willing to help any way you can."
At first, Biggio even considered pitching in alongside rescue workers. But he decided he might be more of a hindrance and a distraction to the men and women who had some very serious work ahead of them. His job is scooping up ground balls, not searching for bodies.
Like Wagner, he grasped the irony in what became a mostly business-as-usual Tuesday for the Astros. His voice cracked when he mentioned the man whose baby son was sucked from his clutches by the devil wind and killed. Biggio's own boys are 5 and 3 .
"Anybody in our clubhouse who doesn't feel lucky to have what we have," Biggio said, "just doesn't get it."