ESPYS Interview Series: Mike Piazza
In 1993, Mike Piazza was NL Rookie of the Year and an All-Star. He took home the Best Breakthrough Athlete Award at the 1994 ESPYS.
His early success is well-noted among baseball fans, but one of his most celebrated accomplishments came in 2001. The New York Mets hosted the first post-9/11 professional sporting event in the city, just 10 days after the terrorist attacks. Piazza hit a two-run home run that sealed the Mets' victory over Atlanta, giving New York fans something to cheer for.
What is your most memorable moment from the ESPYS?
The most memorable moment was getting my Best Breakthrough Athlete Award in '94. At the time, it was only my second year in the league, so it was overwhelming. It was a lot of fun.
Do you have your trophy displayed somewhere?
I do, that's funny, and I'm looking at it right now in my office at home. I know they've changed them a bit, but this one looks like the Statue of Liberty. As an athlete, it's sort of like winning an Oscar. It's pretty cool.
Who were some of your favorite players growing up?
Well, I grew up in Philadelphia, and they had the great Philadelphia teams of the '70s. Mike Schmidt was my favorite player; I idolized him. Larry Bowa, Dave Cash, Bob Boone, Steve Carlton, Garry Maddox -- the Phillies had a really good ballclub. I think they won the division in '76, '77 and '78, and eventually won the World Series in '80, beating the Royals.
Did any players inspire your position?
As a catcher? That was not by choice, more by necessity. I needed to find a position when I signed with the Dodgers. I was always a pretty good hitter. When the Dodgers drafted me, they had just signed Eric Karros, Henry Rodriguez and another first base prospect, and they said I wasn't going to get much playing time over there. I had a pretty good arm, so they tried me out with it behind the plate. It was more or less I needed to find a position or I wouldn't have had a future. It worked out really well for me.
You were rookie of the year and an All-Star in your first year. What did those accomplishments mean to you?
The first year was pretty significant for me as a player. Just establishing myself as a catcher and a hitter in the league and making the All-Star [team], it really helped my confidence. I think, as a young player comes up, you strive to find that confidence and you need to believe that you belong. I thought it was important that I needed to establish myself right away to help my cause.
Your home run with the Mets post-9/11 -- describe that moment and what it meant to New Yorkers?
It's tough for me to talk about, obviously, as a player, because it's tough to put your own accomplishment in a perspective with other people. But I can just go by the way people have always come up to me and talked about that home run and the significance of being in New York in that time. We were just trying to figure out personally where baseball fit in and the bigger significance, just knowing people looked at baseball as a little bit of a healing process and helping them sort of get back to their regular way of life. I think, because of the week and the whole tragedy of the event, people needed something to at least help them try to heal a little bit. The fact that people related it in that way makes it that much more of an honor.
It's no secret you are a heavy metal fan. Who are some of your favorite bands?
Wow, that's like asking what my favorite wine is -- all of them. My musical taste has broadened as I've gotten older. I relate metal and hard rock to the '80s when I grew up, when there was no responsibility and I'm on the road making no money, having fun with the guys. I think of all those bands like Van Halen, Guns N' Roses and AC/DC that I still enjoy listening to.
Do you go to concerts?
Yes, as a matter of fact I went to a show a few months ago, a band called UFO. There's nothing better for me than going to a show and listening to live music. I love live music, regardless if it's a symphony or a heavy metal band. Symphony or Slayer, I love the energy of hard rock and live music.
What kind of things are you doing now?
A whole lot of nothing, really. No, I like to play golf. I enjoy spending time with my family. My wife and I love to travel. I still coach and consult with the Italian national team. Alex Liddi, a player with the Mariners, is a kid I worked with during the last World Baseball Classic. I do some charity events and play in some charity golf tournaments. I usually play in Michael Jordan's golf tournament. Actually, I think I should be playing in ESPN's tournament in July.
Last question, I have to ask. What hat will you wear in the Hall of Fame?
That's an interesting question. The only reason I laugh about it is because I think it's funny people make the hat such a big deal. I don't know -- it's hard to explain. I have a special affinity for the Mets' fans, because that's where I spent a bulk of my time, and if I were to go in as a Met I don't think it would be something that people would have any disagreement with. I will always appreciate my years with the Dodgers, coming up in that organization. Getting traded to the Mets, going to the World Series and having some amazing moments like the one you mentioned after 9/11. The Hall would probably relate those things, and I don't think that would be much of a surprise. How is that for a non-answer?