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Piazza and wife.

old saws

Mike Piazza on the Mets, Citi Field, and Luck

In the excitement surrounding tonight's Yankees-Twins playoff matchup, it's easy to overlook that half of this city is still nursing wounds from yet another embarrassing Mets season. At last night's 24th Annual Great Sports Legends Dinner to benefit the Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis at the Waldorf, we ran into one such grieving Mets fan whom you may have heard of: No. 31, Mike Piazza. Jada Yuan spoke with him as Bob Costas relayed Twins-Tigers game updates from a podium, and security hovered over Piazza, shielding him from one tiny and very persistent fan, arms laden with memorabilia for him to sign.

Since this is a New York event, have you been getting mobbed?
A little. It's obviously very flattering and very nice that I still get remembered and the response is as strong as it is. Again, I can't explain it. It's nice to be remembered, you know.

Do you keep in touch with people in the Mets office?
Yeah, occasionally. It's tough for me. My recent undertaking, I was just working for the Italian Baseball Federation. They had a World Cup in Italy. I was in Italy for three and a half weeks. I just got back from that. But I know a bunch of people in the front office. Charlie Samuels, who's their clubhouse director. He's been there forever. Yeah, I talk to them every now and again ... And, um, you know, follow them. Unfortunately, they didn't have a great year. But, you know, things will get better for them.

You'll have to forgive me because my editors are Mets fans and they gave me some questions.
Haha. They're probably a little P.O.'d, huh?

They wanted to know if you think the Mets are the unluckiest team in baseball.
No. I don't believe in luck. No. Look, we had a lot of frustrations when I was there. That's just the unfortunate thing of playing for the Mets. The highs are extremely high, and the lows are really low. It's really like a roller coaster. There's really not a lot of middle ground with them. [Piazza's wife interjects: "The Chicago Cubs are the unluckiest team in baseball."] Yeah, yeah, yeah. Exactly! The Mets have won two World Series. There's no question. Things will get better.

Were you embarrassed by the Mets' performance this season?
No, no, no. We always root for them.

You've been to Citi Field, right?
I was there for opening day. I tossed the first pitch to open the season. It was cool.

Is it confusing?
I didn't get to really have the full tour, but it was nice. It's like any new home; it takes time to get acclimated and feel comfortable. I'm sure that first day it was certainly a shock to Mets fans because Shea was very charming, but a little bit antiquated. Yeah, I mean, it's like anything, Eventually they'll build the team to the strengths and the weaknesses of the field. There's no doubt in my mind that that will be a really tough place for the opposition to play.

Is there anything old and run-down about Shea that you miss?
Well, Shea is kind of like that good friend who you always have fun with but he never buys lunch. You know, you can kind of do without him. You like him, but at the end of the day, do you really miss him? I dunno. [laughs]

What kind of friend is Citi Field, then?
Eh, we'll find out. I don't know. Time will tell. I mean, I obviously didn't have the pleasure of playing there, but it looked big. I haven't seen a lot of home runs jumping out of there.

I think the most hit by any one player was twelve.
Wow! Yeah, I don't know if it would be my favorite place to hit.

Could you hit more than twelve?
Not now! [Laughs] In my heyday? Maybe. There wasn't really a park I didn't ... Let's just say I didn't fear any park.

The Mets need a catcher this year. Are you available?
Yeah, well. Uh, no. You know what? I think you have to put the cars in the junkyard. It's really tough to bring it back. We'll let the babies take over. They'll be fine. It's tough. They had a lot of injuries and a lot of frustration, but hopefully that's what will make the good times even sweeter — all the frustration.


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Photo: Patrick McMullan