But I have to say that my time with the Mets wouldn’t have been the same without the greatest fans in the world. One of the hardest moments of my career, was walking off the field at Shea Stadium and saying goodbye. My relationship with you made my time in New York the happiest of my career and for that, I will always be grateful.”
Mike Piazza, while announcing his retirement from professional baseball
A hero is defined as “an illustrious warrior”; “a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities” as well as “one that shows great courage”.
Living in New York City, the term hero underwent a facelift after the terrorist attack on September 11th, 2001, as the brave policeman, fireman and other rescuers took on the hero role, and fittingly so. With all due respect to those men, as well as the soldiers overseas and those probably more deserving of the hero title, but from the minute he arrived on May 22nd, 1998 Mike Piazza became my hero.
Everybody has their own interests, whether its music, movies or sports (among countless others) and within those interests, chances are everybody has a favorite artist, singer, actor, actress, athlete and so on and so forth.
Well, as a young kid growing up in Queens, there was no thrill bigger than going to Shea and watching Mike Piazza play baseball for the New York Mets.
From the day he was acquired in May of 1998, through all the memorable home runs and accomplishments, up until his fareware back in ’05, Mike Piazza was always larger than life for me.
Before Mikey was traded to the Mets, my favorite players were rather generic, whether it was Ken Griffey Jr. or Cal Ripken Jr to name a few. The Mets weren’t very good and certainly did have the household name- big time star player who I could brag about having on the team I root for.
But when Mike Piazza arrived, and singlehandedly changed the culture in Queens, making the Mets matter again, he had no bigger fan than me.
I must have spent hundreds of dollars on his baseball cards, t-shirts and plaques, while the very authentic jersey I got as a gift was a pinstriped Mets home jersey with the number 31 and Piazza’s name on the back of it.
You have to understand, I wasn’t just a fan of his, I did anything and everything I could during my childhood to watch him play and get close enough to him for an autograph, because that was what was important to me when I was 12.
My first Piazza memory came a year after the Mets traded for him, as the team held their annual photo day at Shea, where you were allowed to walk around the field before the game and take pictures of – not with- the players.
Well, Mike was standing there, among the final players you could photohgraph, and standing jus a few feet away was a shaking, nervous 12 year old.
As nervous as I was, I realzied this was probably the closest I was ever getting to him, so I ran up to him, shook his hand, and had an absolutely perfect picture taken of the moment, with both Piazza and myself looking directly into the camera.
After Piazza arrived, I had my parents drag me to batting practice before games, desperately trying to get his autograph.
Finally, when the Mets took a trip up to Boston for interleague play in 2000, divine intervention was at work as I just so happened to be staying in the same hotel as the Mets.
Upon walking out of the hotel, I, along with a storm of other Mets fans, followed Mike halfway down a block as he got on the team bus.
I managed to push my way right beside him, asking him for an autograph, with his response being “sorry bro, I got a game to play” (exact words, forever engraved into my memory) and proceeded to get on the bus.
As disappointed as I was for Mike not signing an autograph for me I knew I wasn’t giving up in my persuit. Sure enough, when i got to Fenway, I made a mad dash for the visiting dugout, where I was fully stretched out, arms and legs, smothered by dozens of other fans, trying to toss Mike a ball to sign.
And wouldn’t you know it, in what is among the greatest single moments of my childhood, he reached out for the baseball I was holding and signed it.
To this day, I cannot remember a single moment- sports related or not- which had me smiling ear to ear the way I was after getting Mike Piazza’s autograph. Just thinking about it brings me back.
It may not sound like much, but to a 13 year old kid, having his idol sign a baseball for him was about as big as it gets. I can’t really put into better words how incredible a moment that was.
I could probably fill up a book with Mike Piazza moments, but there are a handful which standout.
I was at his second game ever with the Mets. I remember that being the first time I had asked my parents to specifically get tickets to this game. Piazza was now on the team and I needed to be there to see him in person.
Remembered a lot for the big home runs he hit, for whatever reason, Mike Piazza seemed to have power outtages when I was there to see him. I probably went to somewhere between 100 and 150 games between when he arrived in 98 and 2005, and I think he probably hit less than 10 home runs in those games.
That being said, the ‘quality over quantity’ argument holds true, because of all the home runs Mike Piazza hit, there is one that will always stand out above all the others.
Im not talking about a walk off against Trevor Hoffman, or the capper in the 10 run 8th against Atlanta.
I’m not talking about the grand slam off Clemens in Yankee Stadium, or the shot which gave him the most home runs ever by a catcher.
No, I’m talking about an 8th inning homerun he hit of Braves reliver Steve Karsay on September 21st, 2001.
Just 10 days after the attack on the World Trade Center, baseball had made its first appearance in New York City. Shea Stadium was the site, and with emotions running high, the Mets and Braves provided New Yorkers with their first chance to escape, live and in person.
I was lucky enough to be at the game, and between the pre game ceremonies, the sining of God Bless America and New York, New York and the fact that the Mets happened to be in the midst of a pennant race, it was an overwhelming night to say the least.
Through 7 and a half innings, The Mets were struggling to put anything together offensively, trailing the Braves 2-1.
With a runner on, Piazza stepped up to face Karsay, who left a fastball just a little too much over the plate, and with one swing, an entire city was lifted.
Piazza crushed a bomb of a home run to left center, getting a reaction from the crowd that you had to be there and experience first hand to fully understand.
With everything going on, just a short 10 days after the most horrific attack on this country, a city that had been devastated was on its feet, cheering and screaming, while also crying and praying.
For me, not only was I just happy to be watching my favorite team playing baseball again, I had my favorite player- my hero- step up and deliver like only true heroes do.
To this day, I get goosebumps just thinking about that night, along with all of the other Mike Piazza memories.
Watching as he said goodbye in the final game of the 2005 season, I’ll tell you I cried for the first time in my life for something sports related.
When he came back the following season, I had tickets and got to Shea earlier than I had for any game in my life, making sure I had a spot on top of the visitors dugout, making sure I was among the first to see him back at Shea for the first time since leaving.
Standing and cheering his name throughout the night was terrific, and props to the Mets for playing Piazza’s entrance song Voodoo Child when he stepped up to the plate for his first at bat.
Even watching him hit a few homeruns the following night, AGAINST my Mets had me clapping and smiling.
The year after that, I had box seats when the Oakland A’s came to town, and little did I know I would be seeing Mike on the field at Shea for the last time ever. He was injured and not playing, but did come out to present the lineup card, receiving another thundering ovation from the crowd.
After two season playing to extend his career as long as he could, refusing to quit on the game he loved, Mike Piazza called it a career this week, saying good bye and thanking everybody from his teammates to former managers, and of course the fans.
I look forward to the day Mike Piazza is inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame, hopefully wearing a Mets cap when doing so. Regardless of the cap he wears on his Hall plaque, I plan on being there, in Cooperstown, watching Mike join baseball immortality, giving myself just one more memory with Mike, one last chance for me to cheer and smile like I’m 12 again.
But most of all, one final chance to see my hero.
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