COOPERSTOWN, NY (CBS HOUSTON) – If the road to Cooperstown for Jeff Bagwell was anything like our drive up to cover it, then that jacket must feel really good when he puts it on and seeing his plaque with words so eloquently crafted that defined a career that little leaguers could only dream of, has got to be surreal.
For Alex Del Barrio and I, it was a long but beautiful, scenic and yet challenging drive.
Bagwell’s career was just that, although probably not as long as he would have liked, 15 years isn’t too shabby.
Beautiful was Bagwell’s journey from an intriguing 3B prospect in the Red Sox system to blossoming into a hall of fame caliber first baseman with the Houston Astros.
Jeff played with some of the games greats. From Craig Biggio to Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson to some terrific players that gave the city of Houston some wild rides through the regular season and into the postseason like Ken Caminiti, Daryl Kyle, Roy Oswalt and Moises Alou.
The names and relationships built on and off the field with some of those former teammates and many more was all apart of the journey that helped Jeff become the player he was.
The coaches, managers and trainers that helped him along his journey certainly had a hand in it.
Maybe more so than they actually realize.
Larry Dierker, once a phenom pitcher that debuted in the majors for the Astros at the age of 17 (my great grandmothers favorite player) in 1964, served in many capacities for the Astros over the years.
But it was Larry’s first season at the helm as manager in 1997 that quieted the critics and brought excitement back to the Astrodome.
Dierker of course had help with the Killer B’s (Biggio, Bagwell, Bell and Berry), a good mix of veteran, young and budding talent.
A bashful Dierker says guys like Biggio and Bagwell made his job pretty easy.
” I didn’t manage them. I watched them”.
One of Dierker’s favorite memories of Jeff Bagwell wasn’t necessarily a one of his great games but was one that taught Larry a lot about the “warrior” Bagwell was.
“He got spiked real bad in the dome one day, down the outside of his lower leg and he refused to come out. The trainer wanted him to come out and [Bagwell] finally persuaded him to tape him up and he played the rest of the game and then went straight to the hospital,” Dierker recalled.
“The next day he could hardly walk and was one the DL for the full two weeks, maybe longer. To see somebody play with that type of injury…I couldn’t do it.”
It was that type of tenacity and workman like approach that allowed Dierker to mange the way he wanted to.
The gamer that Jeff Bagwell was and the leadership inside the clubhouse that he and Craig Biggio provided is what led the Astros to their first playoff appearance in 11 years.
It rejuvenated Houston from a city heartbroken and flat out pissed off from having the Oilers stripped from fans to a real baseball town.
Bagwell of course endured plenty of challenges along the way as well.
Born in Boston and growing up a Red Sox fan and idolizing Carl Yastrzemski to being drafted by his team in the 4th round and making a name for himself in their system, to having to adjust to a new city, fan base, way of life and that whole climate shift thing in moving to Houston, Texas.
There of course were the challenges of injury that began in 1993, having his hand broken in consecutive seasons. Bagwell of course overcame those injuries and went on to win NL MVP honors in the strike shortened 1994 season.
The “warrior” that Bagwell was and the competitor he demanded each teammates to be is what helped fill the stat sheet and is why he is being enshrined with the great ones in Cooperstown.
Shaun Bijani hosts Sunday Brunch on Sportsradio 610 Sundays from 11am-2pm Follow Bijani on twitter @ShaunBijani