Wiffle ball and work: How family time helped Quinn Biggio's hitting approach this season

Notre Dame Athletics

In March 2020, when sports at every level came to a screeching halt because of the coronavirus pandemic, Notre Dame infielder Quinn Biggio was sent home from college like the rest of her teammates and students all over the country.

Unlike the rest of her peers, though, Biggio returned to one of Houston's most famous families.

It was a rare opportunity for the five of them to be home together: dad and Houston Astros icon Craig Biggio, Quinn's older brothers -- Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Cavan Biggio, and former Notre Dame outfielder Conor Biggio -- and their mom, Patty.

Game on.

The pandemic-inspired, backyard family Wiffle Ball World Series brought back memories for all of them. Cavan and Quinn ripped cardboard boxes for bases. The most important rule? Do not hit a home run. Over the roof and you're out.

(Try telling that to a family of sluggers.)

"Our neighbors would be walking their dogs and see balls flying over the house," said Quinn, who's hit five home runs for the Irish this year.

"The problem was we ran out of Wiffle balls," said Craig Biggio, now in his 13th season in the Astros' front office as a special assistant to the general manager.

"All the sports stores were closed, and then you're scrambling trying to get more Wiffle balls. We ran out of more equipment than anything. We were knocking on our neighbors doors, 'Can we go in your yard, look in your trees?'"

While the pandemic derailed half of her sophomore season, Quinn said the chance to go home might have been the "wake-up call" she needed, a chance to work on being a more consistent hitter while in the company of her most supportive fans. As Notre Dame faces Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament today (1:30 p.m., ACC Network), the third Biggio to play for the Irish is keeping up the family tradition, coming up with big hits in clutch moments and providing defense all over the infield -- but she manages to do it while mostly coming off the bench.

"I think COVID really helped because I had the chance to kind of during quarantine step back, look at what I was doing well, what I wasn't doing well, and got to put in the work, which was nice," she said, "kind of like a long break to really break down my swing and get back into it."

The Biggios have a beat-up batting cage at their Houston home that's been around for three generations. They all used it during the pandemic, and would each take turns using their weight room. When Craig pitched to them, Quinn said, he had to wear a helmet because the ball could ricochet off the lights. It's old, but they like it because it forces them to square up and hit it up the middle.

It's not just her dad, though, who's been a sounding board throughout her career. Quinn said her mom might have the best hitting advice. ("She might not know how to explain it," Quinn said, "but she knows exactly what you're doing wrong.") Or she'll call Cavan on FaceTime, prop the phone up on the ground, and ask him to watch her hit a few balls and tell her what he thinks. And Conor is the one she'll call for emotional support if she had a bad game, or even just a bad day.

"Honestly, I have four hitting coaches on speed dial," she said, laughing.

Including one who racked up 3,060 hits.

"It was never like, 'You have to do this, you've got to do that,'" said Craig Biggio, who retired in 2007, following a 20-year career with the Astros.

"Sometimes people will lose sight of how hard sports are. In my world, it's more about work and work ethic, and just trying to be the best that you can get out of your own ability, but yet also trying to keep it simple."

Quinn enters the tournament having started 17 of 30 games, and has a .259 batting average. She has 10 runs, 14 hits and 13 RBI in 52 at-bats. To put her pinch-hitting power into perspective beyond five home runs, Biggio has driven in a comparable amount of runs to teammates who have started every game and have more than twice as many at-bats.

"Quinn as a player is very dynamic, and I think she's more dynamic than she realizes," said her brother Cavan.

"She's got so much talent and she has such a high ceiling. You look at it from a defensive standpoint, she can play shortstop, play third play second, play first and you can throw her in the outfield. I guess you can say it's the Biggio way, where my dad did that, and I'm doing it now, and she's doing it at Notre Dame."

Her goal for the ACC Tournament, she said, is "filling whatever role needs to be filled at that moment."

"I've kind of found myself stepping up in that type of way, that type of role this year in which whatever's needed, I can go do," she said. "Whether it's hitting, or stepping in at third base every once in a while, or just being that person in the dugout who's cheering her teammates on, and is getting everyone excited, keeping everyone in the game."

Biggio's versatility is one of her greatest assets to the Irish, Notre Dame coach Deanna Gumpf said.

"Quinn has done an amazing job of filling shoes for us, meaning she has played almost every single infield position," Gumpf said. " ... and I wouldn't be surprised if she doesn't finish her career playing some second base as well. So she has done it all for us. And she's been real solid and steady, and she's dealt with, you know, she dealt with some injuries, too, so she's handled things really well and I think the biggest change for her has been her confidence and her consistency at the plate."

Earlier this month against Virginia Tech, the Irish were hanging on to a 2-1 lead in the top of the sixth inning when Biggio was called to pinch hit and delivered a home run with two outs.

"She is always ready to attack wherever the coaches put her, and whatever position she's in," Notre Dame pitcher Payton Tidd said. "She has definitely come in clutch the last couple of pinch hits she's had, and she's really put us over the top in many different games."

When Quinn was younger and played on a community team, she was always given the No. 7 because that's what her dad wore before the Astros retired his number on Aug. 17, 2008. She said strangers would approach her and ask to take a picture -- of the back of her jersey.

"I was excited to get out of Houston a little bit and get to make a name for myself," she said. "Baseball and softball are the same sport, but at the same time, they're 100 ways different."

Now she wears No. 4 -- but didn't realize it's the same number her dad wore when he entered the major leagues.

"A big name on your back, it can be it can be very difficult at times, but I think our kids understand it and they get it, and they understand that they they're just trying to be as good as they could be whatever that is," Craig Biggio said. "And other people have different expectations of who they should be or what that is. That's on them. That's not who they are, they just try to be the best possible athletes that they can be. And the best possible teammate they could be."

Including in their own back yard.