Dan's Dugout: Another Honor for Mike Piazza • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Another Honor for Mike Piazza

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FLUSHING — Somebody up there loves Mike Piazza.

The driving rains that had been hammering CitiField suddenly stopped just before the Mets retired his No. 31 in on-field ceremonies Saturday night.

With wife Alicia burnished in orange, one of the team’s primary colors, and his parents, daughters, and three of his four brothers seated in folding chairs behind second base, Piazza portrayed himself as a humble man who will be eternally grateful to Mets fans for their support.

“I will always be with you,” he told a packed house in Queens. “Just look up there and you will see old Mikey.”

Mike Piazza's No. 31 joins Tom Seaver's 41 as numbers retired for Mets players. Credit: Cesar Diaz

Mike Piazza’s No. 31 joins Tom Seaver’s 41 as numbers retired for Mets players.
Credit: Cesar Diaz

He pointed to the rim of the stadium in upper left field, where his No. 31, contained in a pinstriped circle, joined Tom Seaver’s No. 41 as the only numbers retired by the team in honor of its players. Two Mets managers, Casey Stengel (37) and Gil Hodges (14), also have their numbers in that place of honor, while Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 has been universally retired.

“Today is a new beginning,”said Piazza, who promised to follow the Mets by listening to Howie Rose on the radio. “I look forward to coming back here many times in future years.”

Rose, the long-time radio voice of the Mets, served as emcee for the evening. His comments were interspersed with videos of Piazza’s career highlights and cheers of LET’S GO METS and “Mike Piazza!” from the stands.

Former teammates Al Leiter, Edgardo Alfonzo, and Cliff Floyd sat with the Piazza family and hugged the former catcher on the field. John Franco, who gave Piazza his No. 31 after the Mets acquired the catcher from the Florida Marlins, was unavailable.

Then, in a twist of previous tradition, Piazza threw out the first pitch of the game from his familiar catcher’s box. Leiter, the first man to defeat all 30 teams, stood on the mound to catch it.

Mike Piazza speaks from the heart at CitiField Saturday. Credit: Dan Schlossberg

Mike Piazza speaks from the heart at CitiField Saturday.
Credit: Dan Schlossberg

The evening was all Piazza, as the grounds crew had mowed a giant 31, surrounded by a home plate, into the center-field grass. There was even a special tarpaulin with a cartoon image of the former catcher.

Unlike his speech at the Baseball Hall of Fame six days earlier, Piazza’s appearance at CitiField was not interrupted by tears. But maybe that’s because he started by saying, “With all due respect to Tom Hanks, there IS crying in baseball.”

In the movie A League of Their Own, Hanks played a manager in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League who told his players they couldn’t cry.

Piazza’s performance was emotional but not tearful — perhaps because he was wary of the dire weather forecast. A light rain started falling almost immediately after the ceremony but even the final score did not dampen the mood of the sellout crowd. After taking an early 2-0 lead behind Bartolo Colon, working on short rest, the Mets lost to the Colorado Rockies, 7-2.

For Piazza, the on-field honor was far from his first. On September 29, 2013, he was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame. Cooperstown came calling three years later, in his fourth year on the ballot.

“I was a wreck emotionally all week,” he admitted earlier Saturday. “But this occasion is a little more festive, and it should be.

“Every team has a different philosophy in retiring numbers so I think it’s great that the Mets keep it very exclusive. That makes it even more special.”

Mike Piazza drew a packed house for his number retirement

Mike Piazza drew a packed house for his number retirement

Unlike the thesis he delivered in Cooperstown, Piazza’s speech Saturday was short, sweet, and to the point. He was introduced with a video that showed him walking through the deserted CitiField parking lot, into the stadium, into the clubhouse, and into the dugout. When he emerged onto the wet turf, he was wearing the same charcoal suit he had been wearing in the video.

It was obvious the video had been shot much earlier: the former slugger was wearing sunglasses to keep the glare of the sun out of his face.

By the time the ceremonies started, the sun was long gone — like one of Piazza’s 427 home runs. He hit 396 of them as a catcher, a major-league record, and had a lifetime batting average of .308.

When he shared the Hall of Fame podium with former Seattle star Ken Griffey, Jr. last weekend, neither of them could keep their composure. The CitiField night was decidedly different but also delightful — even for non-Mets fans who were there to witness history.

Elsewhere in baseball:

In a surprise move, the weak-hitting Atlanta Braves landed a sudden slugger from San Diego when they traded Cuban import Hector Olivera, recently suspended for allegedly assaulting a woman in a Washington hotel, for veteran righthanded hitter Matt Kemp . . .

Another surprise on the eve of the trading deadline was Washington’s acquisition of Pittsburgh closer Mark Melancon, one of the best in baseball . . .

Mark Melancon improves the Washington bullpen

Mark Melancon improves the Washington bullpen

Starting pitcher Andrew Cashner had to shave his beard to conform with the rules of Miami manager Don Mattingly after he was sent from San Diego to the Marlins over the weekend . . .

Terry Francona is thrilled that his Cleveland Indians won the sweepstakes for Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who had also been targeted by the Mets and Braves . . .

A rare wild spell by Aroldis Chapman contributed to his first blown save in a Cubs uniform.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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