Hey all. I’ve got a topic on my mind, so I’m going to skip my usual introductions and get right to it.
Contrary to the opinion of most of my friends, I have not always been a baseball fan. In fact, I was not much of a baseball fan until the late 90’s. My father had always tried to get me into baseball- told stories about Nails and Mookie and Keith Hernandez and that little squibber that somehow squeaked right through Bill Buckner’s legs. He took me to games, and I always had a fun time, but I never really cared too much about the game. All I knew was that the Yankees were the bad guys and the Mets were the good guys. Other than that, I didn’t know anything, nor did I try to learn more…until Mike came along.
My old school friends were into baseball, and they were all Yankees fans. All day long they would go on about Jeter and Knoblauch and Posada, and how the Yankees were the greatest and how no one could ever beat them. I barely knew anything about the game, but I already knew that I hated the Yankees. All day long, every single day, Yankees, Yankees, Yankees, yada yada yada. I hardly ever heard anything about the Mets, or any other team. Then, one day, I heard guys talking about the other team. Big news, they said. A new guy had joined the Mets, and he was supposed to be really good. Had a weird name, I remember thinking. Sounded like pizza. Little did I know how this player would change my life.
Mike Piazza may have the best swing I have ever been witness to. It’s so crisp and clean. I remember getting chills every time I watched him play. That big swing, the quick freeze-frame pose as he whacked that poor baseball, the crack of the bat as it connected, and the roar in Flushing as everyone watched another Mikey home run. I swear, sometimes I think the roar of the crowd (myself included) was louder than any plane that happened to be flying over Shea at the same moment. I would always flip out whenever he came to the plate. I finally understood what baseball was about.
2000. I learned just in time. Say what you want about the Mets- they may be lazy at times. They may fall short of that grand prize at the end. Take all of those points…and throw them out. When they play, it never matters. All you know is that if they win, it’s going to be very entertaining. The Mets always found the most interesting ways to win. Benny Agbayani’s 13th-inning shot against the Giants in Game 3 of the 2000 NLDS. The Mets dominating the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2000 NLCS. How about Robin Ventura’s one and only grand slam single in the 1999 NLCS against the Braves? The Mets always made games fun to watch. You just couldn’t help but root for them. They’re the middle children of New York. With the Yanks, all the attention is on the Yankees. Prim, proper, and cold, the Yankees define baseball as a corporation. There’s no feeling, no passion. For a team that claims to be all about history, the Yankees sure play like they have amnesia. The only thing one their mind is winning. The Mets are the underdogs. Scrappy, gritty, and fun. they play the game. They play the game the way it’s meant to be played. Maybe they fall short of winning the Series, but in the end, you felt great watching them.
Mike made that happen every season. Every at-bat, I would wait for Mikey to make something happen. He was the Mets, plain and simple. When you were asked to name the first Met that came to your mind, and the answer was usually Mike Piazza. Don’t get me wrong, Mike wasn’t the only Met anyone cared about. Everyone on that 2000 team was amazing. Al Leiter, Robin Ventura, Benny, Mikey, Fonzie, Zeile, Joey Mac (Super Joe!), Rey, Jay, Derek Bell, Rick, ****, even Armando…even though he caused heart palpitations every time he toed the rubber. They were all amazing, but Mikey was Amazin’. He defined an era, and is the one that won me over for baseball. Now that he has gone back to the West Coast, I’ve looked back on what Mike Piazza meant to me, and it’s staggering. The first player I ever considered to be my favorite, Mike made me love baseball, and made me a Mets’ fan now and forever. For that, I am always thankful. Maybe it’s not much, but this is my small way of saying thank you Mike, for all the memories. Good luck to you in San Diego, and when you get to Cooperstown, here’s to the Mets’ cap you’ll sport. Till next time,
De Lao, out.