HOUSTON -- Minute Maid Park usually draws a somewhat late-arriving crowd, but on Friday, most of the 43,430 fans who accounted for the Astros' second sellout of the season were seated nearly a half-hour before the series opener with the St. Louis Cardinals began. Clearly, no one wanted to miss a minute of "Jeff Bagwell Appreciation Day," which included a pregame ceremony during which club owner Drayton McLane announced the club would retire Bagwell's uniform No. 5 on Aug. 26, prior to the Astros' game with the Pittsburgh Pirates. "Jeff Bagwell is one of the greatest players ever to wear an Astros uniform or the uniform of any Major League team," said McLane, who also presented Bagwell with the first base used at the 2005 World Series. "Jeff is a true leader who exemplifies what a Hall of Famer is all about both on and off the field.
"He has set a strong example for what a teammate should be. He personifies what an 'Astro in Action' is, as Jeff has made a positive difference in the community and will continue to do so in the future." Bagwell will be the ninth player in Astros history to have his number retired. Most recently, Jimmy Wynn's No. 24 was retired in 2005. "It's one thing to have your high school jersey retired," Bagwell said. "It's another thing to have it retired in the pinnacle of your sport. I'm very proud of that, I'm very humbled by it." Then, laughing a bit, he added, "I wish these days would stop coming, because I get embarrassed, I get nervous. I'm a heckuva lot more nervous doing that than I am even if I went up there trying to hit today. It's a humbling experience, and I'm blessed." With Bagwell's wife, Ericka, and their daughters, Bryce and Blake, watching from the sidelines, Bagwell saluted the fans that stood and cheered for the now-retired Astros icon. "Sometimes you don't know what to expect," he said. "This entire offseason, running through today, has been amazing. The fans' reactions, the organization, my teammates -- it makes you feel great. It makes you feel like you left a little bit of a mark, and that's a great feeling to have." Astros fans weren't the only ones showing their appreciation. The Cardinals dugout was also filled with St. Louis players, along with manager Tony La Russa and general manager Walt Jocketty, all of whom gave Bagwell a hearty salute. Cardinals players who were on the field stretching stopped an applauded, including former Astros outfielder Preston Wilson and Houston nemesis Albert Pujols. "The St. Louis Cardinals are one of the classiest organizations there is," Bagwell said. "No question about it, our biggest rivalry in the last 10 years, but in a good way. We've always respected each other. I respect Tony a tremendous amount. "That makes me feel good, it really does. I know when that kind of stuff has happened to us, I've made sure we all were at the top step, too. It's important to respect the game and the people who played before you. That meant a lot to me." Clearly, this ceremony was for everyone, because it gave legions of people who have been a part of Bagwell's life and career and chance to show their appreciation. "He and Craig [Biggio] have been the face of the organization, not only during the time they played, but I think they're going to be the face of the organization, period, past and present," longtime Astros catcher Brad Ausmus said. "There's been a lot of Jeff Bagwell honoring going around these days, and I think it's deserved. "Baseball players don't last forever. Unfortunately, his career was cut short, but he was still here for a long period of time. It wasn't going to be forever. But I don't think his fingerprint has been fully erased. He is still with the organization. He was with us in Spring Training. He did don the uniform and do some coaching. He's worked with the Minor Leaguers, and he still talks to the Major League guys. He might not be a player anymore, but he is still having an effect."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.