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Growing up an ardent baseball fan in New York City during the seventies and eighties meant rooting for either the New York Yankees or Mets. If you were “truly” a Yankees or Mets fan there was an unwritten rule (like any sports rivalry) that says you are forbidden to root for the crosstown team.
Today this fan logic still applies, yet other than playing in the same metropolis; the comparison between these two Major League Baseball teams could not be more extreme. On the one hand, the Yankees for several decades, play in the Bronx, have had a profound legacy and tradition associated with winning; and are arguably the team that baseball fans passionately love or hate. Also the team’s ubiquitous logo is immediately recognized throughout the world. At the same time, the Mets are located in Flushing, Queens and have had a history, of at best, mediocrity.
Since its inception in 1962, the New York Mets franchise has had glimpses of perfection, winning the World Series in 1969 and 1986. There have been few Hall of Fame caliber players, in comparison to the Yankees, who have had a plethora of All-Stars throughout the team’s history. The most notable and the only Hall of Famer who adorns the NY Mets logo engraved on a bronze plaque in Cooperstown, is one-time pitcher and Californian native and vineyard producer, Tom Seaver, who played from 1967 to 1977 and 1983.
According to most Mets fans, the only other player who could be placed in the same category as Tom Seaver (maybe Keith Hernandez) is Italian American Mike Piazza. “He reached the hearts of Mets fans the moment he arrived and played every game at a high standard,” said Ira Berg a Long Island native and a Mets fan for forty years. Another fan explained one of the most memorable nights for him and his wife was when he hit the famous homerun against the Atlanta Braves post-9/11. “That was the moment that Mike truly entered Mets history and in the realm of Seaver,” said Paul Ryan (No, not Mitt Romney’s running mate.)
The former LA Dodger and 1993 Rookie of the Year, has been retired for nearly six years, playing his final game in 2007 with the Oakland Athletics. Recently, Mike Piazza, the twelve time All Star catcher, traveled to New York City to promote his autobiography titled Long Shot written with Lonnie Wheeler.
The title is apropos to a baseball athlete who was chosen in the 62nd round of the 1988 Major League draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. According to his book, Piazza was selected by the Dodger organization because the manager at the time, Tommy Lasorda, was asked by Mike’s dad to give his son a tryout.
Despite his slim chances and the recommendation of the great Ted Williams who once declared after watching him hit in batting practice “he would succeed in the majors”, Mike Piazza was barely chosen by a team. He channeled his frustration, after being chosen the 1,390 player selected in the draft, by working extremely hard and was determined to prove baseball scouts and teammates wrong. In his book, the reader gets the impression that while he played with a chip on his shoulder, he isolated himself and sometimes appeared to be a prima donna by his teammates.
In retrospect, his career has been defined not by playing on the LA Dodgers, or courting Playboy models (eventually marrying one) or being seen in heavy metal concerts, but by playing on the NY Mets. Ironically, in his retirement, his legacy has been tarnished by allegations of steroid use. Although in his book he admits to using “substances later banned by baseball”, he also revealed he “did not want to compromise the integrity of the game”. Even though his critics have doubts about his true involvement with steroids that have also prevented him from being voted into the Hall of Fame this year, he is still idolized by Mets fans.
While interviewed on Comedy Central by another avid Mets fan, Jon Stewart, Piazza responded to Stewart’s question when he asked, “if you are elected into the Hall of Fame, would you go in as a Dodger or Met, Mike replied without hesitation “a Met.” To his credit Piazza is very active in the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago and with the Italian National Baseball Team. Yes, you heard correctly baseball (not soccer) in Italy.
Mike Piazza’s family originated from Sciacca, Sicily and he is apparently very proud of his ethnicity. In a recent interview for a local paper, Piazza explains, “He is rediscovering ancestral roots in Italy and helping to make baseball relevant there. Piazza is the hitting coach for the Italian National Team that won the European Championship this year. He will serve as hitting coach for Team Italy in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. (Commencing from March 2nd to March 10th, 2013) “Piazza is becoming quite fluent in Italian, as he learns more about himself as a coach and a person.”
In addition while visiting Rome a few months ago he became interested with the Emperor Constantine I and has decided to talk with a friend who is a film producer about a possible movie project about the Emperor responsible for spreading Christianity. The movie project seems to be another long shot, but he has dealt with the impossible before.