“Being Italian-American in New York, I am very proud of my heritage. It’s something I have great pride in and I’m a little emotional, knowing how proud my father and grandfather would be if they could see me here.” It was 2002 when Mike Piazza shared this thought in an interview to the Associated Press during his visit in Italy. At that time, Piazza was a New York Mets slugger and found an occasion to reconnect with his Italian roots during a four-city European tour with a stop in Rome.
Some time has passed since that moment, and 2016 opened greatly for the former baseball player. On January 5, he received the news that his name appeared on 83.0 percent of the ballots to become part of the Hall of Fame that honors baseball players for being great at baseball. After four years on the ballot, his support increased with each passing year, as he appeared on 57.8 percent of the ballots in 2013, 62.2 percent in 2014, and 69.9 percent in 2015.
Piazza’s family was originally from Sciacca (Sicily). Born in 1968 in Norristown, Pennsylvania, Mike is the second-oldest son of Italian father Vince and Slovakian mother Veronica, with brothers Vince, Jr., Danny, Tony, and Tommy.
Nothing happened by chance in his life, especially the fact that he became one of the most popular Italian American baseball players: Mikes’s father, Vince, was in love with the sport but his early career ended at the age of 16 when he had to leave school in order to support his family. For this reason, later on, he saw Mike’s potential to follow his path and started encouraging his son to build his arm strength at the age of five. In the meantime, Mike’s Piazza had been able to earn more than $100 million in used cars and real estate, and tried many times to purchase a Major League Baseball franchise. When the Dodgers, that were managed by Vince Piazza’s friend Tommy Lasorda and Mike’s brother godfather, visited Philadelphia, Piazza visited the Dodger clubhouse and served as a bat boy in the dugout.
Vince threw hundreds of pitches nightly to his son, who really wanted to share his father’s interest for baseball. While he attended Phoenixville Area High School and graduated in 1986, the Miami-Dade Community College student was drafted by the Dodgers in the 62nd round of the 1988 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft as the 1,390th player picked overall in the draft.
During his career, Mike has been an outstanding catcher and hitter, since he played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets. He also had a chance to wear the jerseys of the Florida Marlins, San Diego Padres and Oakland A’s. He hit 427 home runs, the biggest numbers ever recorded by a catcher in MLB history, and posted a .308 batting average in 16 big league seasons. Piazza went in his first major league game on September 1, 1992 against the Chicago Cubs and he is one of 140 players since 1914 to get three or more hits in his first MLB game and one of 17 catchers to accomplish this feat.
Mike Piazza has kept his connection with Italy along his all life: as son of an Italian man, he played for the Italian team in the inaugural World Baseball Classic, turning into a long-term relationship with his family’s homeland. Also, while he grew up in Philadelphia, he was in love with soccer: Vince used to take him to watch the Philadelphia Fury of the North American Soccer League, the New York Cosmos and the Philadelphia Fever indoor team. One day he explained why, besides growing in an Italian family, he never made his career in “calcio”: “My lack of speed killed me. My dad said there wasn’t any money in soccer. He made the right call.” Piazza often talks about his love for soccer: he attended the World Cup in Brazil and kept connection to his family’s homeland. Indeed, he never gave up his interest, as shown by that time when he was wearing the colors of Palermo FC to celebrate the promotion from Italy’s second-tier league to the Serie A of the Sicilian team.
But also his first love, baseball, was relevant in keeping the connection with Italy: he has served as the hitting coach for Italy’s World Baseball Classic teams. In 2009, Piazza was in the Bel Paese where he gave a clinic to the players of the Italian Academy in Tirrenia. Since he joined Team Italia in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, the Italian American contributed to the growth and the development of baseball in Italy. By working together with Italian MLB Academy Director and Team Italia pitching coach Bill Holmberg, Piazza managed to help Italy become the greatest baseball team in Europe.