Brian Wilke, left and Houston Astros' Hall of Famer Craig Biggio pose for a photo Friday, Jan. 5, 2018, outside Wilke's Badass Pits in downtown Conroe. The second base legend was in Conroe to pick up a custom World Series fire pit from Wilke's Badass Pits
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Hall of Fame second baseman Craig Biggio slid into Astros camp this week with the same under-the-radar tactic he used last year. The iconic Astro shirked attention, sneaked into the dugout during the team's afternoon game against the Marlins and hung out with "the boys," he said, identifying with them more like a 52-year-old teammate than a guest instructor.
Biggio recently has devoted his spring training stints to minor leaguers, but because they did not have a game scheduled, he strolled to the major league turf field on a chilly Thursday morning to pal around with the franchise stars.
The current crop of chummy players reminds Biggio of pairing with Hall of Fame first baseman Jeff Bagwell on close-knit teams 20 years ago - only these guys are World Series champions.
"There's always going to be something that needs to be tweaked or fixed or tried to get done at the deadline, but this team," Biggio said, "they have talent and they got chemistry. They get along together, they play well together, they're very talented guys. Being around these guys, it's so similar to the '90s. A lot of the time that's what gets you over the hump."
That hump - a historic gap, really - is the challenge the Astros face in becoming the first repeat champions since the 2000 Yankees. The 17-season drought is the longest in history.
"Repeating in general is hard," Biggio said, "I mean, winning it is hard. It's the first time in 60-something years" - 56 years, but who's counting? - "it took us to win your first championship.
Biggio played 20 years without so much as a World Series win attached to his Hall of Fame résumé.
The Astros consistently have emphasized the importance of compartmentalizing the moments of their post-Hurricane Harvey championship run. Biggio said he is seeing them putting their words into action.
"What happened last year is over," he said. "That's the way these guys are going about their season. On paper, they have just as good of a chance as they did last year."
He lauded owner Jim Crane and general manager Jeff Luhnow for the aggressive trades that added powerful righthanded starters Justin Verlander last August and Gerrit Cole in January.
"I give Jim and Jeff a lot of credit for making this team a little bit better than it was last year," Biggio said. "Your starting rotation is pretty darn good."
Biggio referred to the franchise' talent cycle from his era, which rose and fell multiple times between a late-90s blossom and late-2000s drop.
"It's exciting that you're adding more pieces to make yourself better," he said. "You never know when the bottom of the wave is going to come here. We were at the bottom of the wave for a while, then last year we were able to ride the wave for a while. You just keep adding pieces to the puzzle to be successful."
Biggio and Bagwell embraced for an emotional triumph at Dodger Stadium after the Astros defeated the Dodgers in Game 7 of the World Series.
The pair of all-time great teammates shared a piece of Houston's triumph for everything they gave the franchise in their 15 years together.
Bagwell visited camp as a guest instructor last week. Biggio is picking up where Bagwell left off. He is pitching in to prepare players this spring, acting like one of the boys of summer and dreaming of another October.
"The exciting thing about our guys now is they're not young kids anymore," Biggio said. "They understand what they need to do to get ready."