This afternoon, I had the pleasure of covering the Mike Piazza Hall of Fame festivities at Citi Field. It was a perfect early fall day, and Citi Field roared for Piazza as he became the 27th member of the New York Mets Hall of Fame.
Prior to the game, Piazza addressed the media and reflected on his time in New York. Although the fans were a bit slow to open their arms to him after he was acquired via trade in May of 1998, Piazza didn’t mention it. Instead, he noted that the fans took him under their wing soon after his arrival. He expanded on that while stating that the bond between himself and the fans is something he can’t fully put into words. The closest he came to putting it into words was when he called his relationship with the fans “a truly special connection.”
Piazza, who has been out of the limelight and a rare sight at Citi Field since it opened in 2009, seemed at ease and jovial while speaking with the media before his induction this afternoon. He joked that he would give the Mets the first shot at signing his two month old son, but noted that he wouldn’t come cheap. He seemed to truly be enjoying the moment, and it was a great thing to see.
As the ceremonies neared, I walked out of the tunnel and onto the Citi Field dirt behind home plate. It was a surreal sensory experience. There was a palpable buzz in the ballpark that was nearly filled to the brim, and the way the crowd reacted both before and during the festivities was a reminder of years gone by.
This was, after all, the last game of the fifth consecutive losing season the franchise has suffered. During the Piazza ceremony, though, that didn’t cross my mind. The only thing that was on my mind was what was happening at present: a ballpark roaring for one of the greatest players who ever played the game – one who fans of the Mets were fortunate enough to call their own for nearly eight seasons.
After emerging from the dugout and making a brief stop behind the plate, Piazza made his way out to shallow center field to join his family and past Mets greats who were gathered for his induction. After Howie Rose concluded his introductions, Piazza took to the podium to make his acceptance speech.
With the crowd chanting his name and making a noise that’s been heard far too infrequently in the first five years of Citi Field, Piazza began thanking those who helped him along the way. When it came time to thank his Dad, who has had a rough year health-wise, Piazza nearly broke down. As his father teared up and was comforted by Piazza’s wife Alicia, the greatest hitting catcher of all time reminded the capacity crowd that all of his heroics wouldn’t have been possible without the guidance he received from his father.
After thanking his family, former teammates, and others, Piazza thanked the fans. He made a point of telling the fans just how much their support has meant to him – both during and after his time with the Mets. Everyone remembers Piazza’s greatest moments as a Met, but he went out of his way to discuss how much it meant to him when the fans welcomed him back with open arms when he returned to Shea Stadium as a Padre in 2006. Piazza’s speech was short, but both heartfelt and genuine.
Early this afternoon, the greatest hitting catcher of all time, and one of the greatest players to ever wear the orange and blue, was given a day he deserved. The fans, thrilled to have him back at the home of the Mets, once again made sure Piazza knew how much he meant to them.
If justice is served next year, Piazza will return to Citi Field once again, for the retirement of his #31 after his election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Most people, including myself, believe that the Mets are waiting for Piazza’s election to Cooperstown before hanging his number alongside Casey, Gil, and The Franchise. When that day comes, Mets fans will again be given the opportunity to pay tribute to Piazza. For now, today will do.