Sunday, March 20, 2011
#546) MIKE PIAZZA
Mike Piazza came to the New York Mets when he was traded from the Florida Marlins in exchange for Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall, and Geoff Goetz on May 22, 1998. The trade would serve as the greatest in franchise history and bring to the Mets one of their biggest stars. "This town is ready and waiting for Mike Piazza," Mets owner, Fred Wilpon stated that day. "Mike Piazza is going to be a tremendous force in this town. This is a guy who could become the kind of player people talked about who played in New York 30, 40, 50 years ago. We're talking Mantle, Mays, DiMaggio."
Mike performed as advertised and immediately became the face of the team. Piazza represented the club in six Major League All-Star games during his time in New York. He is widely considered as the greatest hitting catcher in baseball history. Mike holds the major-league record for most career home runs hit by a catcher with 396 of his 427 total coming that way. Piazza established a Mets single-season club record with 124 RBIs in 1999, and led the club with a .324 batting average in 2000. It was not surprising that during his best two years the Mets advanced to the postseason. Winning the National League Championship in 2000.
Piazza's biggest moment came at Shea Stadium facing the Atlanta Braves on September 21, 2001. It was during the first game played in New York City following the tragic attacks on September 11th. Mike stepped to the plate in the eighth with the shaken hometown crowd just waiting for something to cheer about. Piazza stroked a long drive over the centerfield fence to provide a 3-2 victory and a brief release from the pain of a nation. "I remember standing on the line during the national anthem - actually when the bagpipes and band came out - I said to myself, 'Please God, give me the strength to get through this," Mike recalled to the NY Daily News in 2008. "I was fortunate to find the strength to hit a home run in that situation. I'm flattered, I'm honored that people put that moment as a time where it helped the city at least have a little bit of joy in a really tough week."
The Mets ended an era when they granted the slugger free agency on October 28, 2005. "I have to say that my time with the Mets wouldn't have been the same without the greatest fans in the world." Mike said upon his retirement from baseball in May 2008. "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." Former Mets manager, Willie Randolph was quoted, "It's the end of a Hall of Fame career. It was a priviledge to manage him for the short time that I did."
The Mets gave Piazza the honor of receiving the final pitch from Tom Seaver during the ceremony to close Shea Stadium on September 28, 2008. "Todd Pratt used to say, 'It's not much boys but it's home'," Mike said while remembering the ballpark. "It was charming and it was home."
Piazza has enjoyed life as a full-time dad to his daughters since his playing days. He also has found time to serve as the hitting coach for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. The same WBC team he played for in 2006. "They love baseball," said Mike. "They're passionate about it, and I wanted to continue to help them and bring more awareness that baseball is viable in Europe and push Major League Baseball to continue the investment over there."
Mike Piazza signed his card in the set from an autograph request sent to Team Italy's training camp in Vero Beach, Florida on March 19, 2011.