If we time-traveled back to when Mike Piazza first arrived in Flushing, it sure wouldnâ€™t feel like the star catcher eventually would be heading to Cooperstown as a Met. The new Hall of Famer makes that pretty clear himself.
â€œAt first, it was a tough time here,â€ Piazza said Thursday at his introductory press conference. â€œI donâ€™t feel like I was embraced. I wasnâ€™t by any means playing well. Eventually, I decided to try to do the best I could. The fans responded.
â€œEnded up having an amazing experience here in New York, eight amazing years. Iâ€™ve been rewarded and blessed by the support I received hereâ€¦ To be embraced in New York City is something very special.â€
Thatâ€™s why it was little surprise that Piazza announced that he will be wearing a Met cap on his Hall of Fame plaque when itâ€™s unveiled as part of the induction ceremonies July 24.
The Dodgers had a case â€” Piazzaâ€™s dad, Vince, is lifelong friends with Tommy Lasorda. Some say thatâ€™s why Piazza got a shot at all when the Dodgers took him in the 62nd round back in 1988.
Piazza even spoke to Lasorda after his election to the Hall of Fame, breaking the Met cap news to his old pal.
â€œNothing negative with the Dodgers, but your heart can only be in one place,â€ Piazza said. â€œAs much as I appreciated coming up with LA and learning through that organization, I ended up here and that was the most special time in my career.â€
After the formal part of the presser at the New York Athletic Club, Piazza described one of the early times he really felt he could â€” apologies, Frank Sinatra – make it here. He detailed hitting a pinch-double late in the 1998 season, his first with the Mets after that midseason deal with the Marlins. He thought it might have happened in September, but it couldâ€™ve been an Aug. 18 game at Shea in which his three-run pinch-double turned a deficit into a Met lead in the second game of a doubleheader they eventually won. He felt the love.
â€œFrom there, I said to myself, â€˜I know I can do it here,â€™â€ Piazza recalled. â€œItâ€™s not easy. Playing here is very difficult at times. But it felt right. It felt like I had to see it through.â€
Piazza, of course, bloomed into one of the biggest baseball stars ever in New York, as anyone who can remember the startling â€” and loud â€” thunder his bat made.
The Mets started to win. They became interesting. They even had an edge.
â€œAs much as we were not boring â€” we had some turmoil â€” it made it fun, because we had some really unique characters and the fans were obviously the biggest part of that,â€ Piazza said.
Piazza helped lead the Mets to the 2000 World Series, something they would not do again until last season.
Then he hit his memorable post-Sept. 11 home run, lifting up this town in the first major sporting event in New York after the terrorist attacks. That still touches him.
â€œFor me to be at the right place at the right time and come through, I can only think it comes from above,â€ Piazza said.
And itâ€™s moments like that, not just the cap on his plaque, that will make him forever a Met.