Baseball is one of the handful of things in my life for which I don’t mind being a complete sap when the opportunity presents itself. I readily tear up when I think back on the great Mets moments I’ve seen over the years, and, on further reflection, I realize again that a lot of those moments had something to do with Mike Piazza.
We all make promises to ourselves as life goes on. Inevitably, some of those promises are neglected or forgotten about altogether, but some of them stick—some of them, you make sure you do. Sometime soon after Piazza’s post-9/11 home run, I resolved that I would attend his Hall of Fame induction ceremony someday, whenever it happened to occur, come hell or high water. Happily, I was able to make good on it. I hopped on a plane, stayed with my parents near Binghamton, and drove up to the Clark Sports Center on Sunday for the induction ceremony with my dad, sister, and brother-in-law.
I have less patience than I used to for MLB’s perpetual-motion hype-and-marketing machine; in fact, I find I am a fan in spite of it. We are spoon-fed about All-Star Game voting in April, and we see league-generated hype for the trade deadline in May. These and other displays of marketing mania are as absurd and off-putting as Christmas decorations going on sale in October: They detract from genuine enjoyment of the things they exist to, ostensibly, help us enjoy. And thus, when Hall of Fame Chairwoman Jane Forbes Clark informed us in the crowd that MLB TV had asked her to stop talking for a minute so they could run a promo, I and my fellow audience members, roasting in the late-July sun as we had been for hours, issued a hearty boo.
It was funny and cathartic, as un-planned moments such as those tend to be, and it put us under the spell of collective good humor. And then, after an unremarkable Rob Manfred speech, Piazza’s Hall of Fame video began to play. We looked up at the jumbo screen and saw home video footage of the legend we’ve all heard since the beginning: a teenage Mike Piazza, hitting in a home batting cage under the watchful eye and boisterous tutelage of Ted Williams. Al Leiter appeared on screen and gave his testimony of Piazza as a baseball player, a friend, and a person.
Piazza stepped to the microphone and was greeted by huge cheers and a roll call from the thousands of Mets fans in attendance. He gave a kind, heartfelt speech that centered on certain important career steps and giving thanks to some of the influential people in his life. There was a wonderful moment where, in the recounting of his career path, he took a dramatic pause and launched into the story of his time with the New York Mets—thus eliciting another huge Mets-fan cheer.
I noticed I had goosebumps as Piazza talked about some of my favorite teams—when he played for Bobby Valentine with guys like Edgardo Alfonzo, whom he complemented extensively, and Al Leiter, and John Franco. And then Piazza pivoted to talking about the fans. He said how grateful he is for us accepting him “into (our) family,” and how we pushed him hard, demanded more from him, and, ultimately, made him better. He said, “The thing I miss most is making you cheer.” It took a few minutes of applause before I noticed I had an ear-to-ear smile on my face and tears rolling down my cheeks.
It’s been hard for me to get lost in baseball this year, unfortunately. As my responsibilities grow and there is increased competition for my attention, things like MLB’s forced-fun marketing machine seem to present an ever-higher cost of admission into that carefree, youthful headspace of pure Mets-fan enjoyment. Still, thanks to a sunny day in Cooperstown last weekend, spent, as it was, watching Mike Piazza’s Hall of Fame induction with family, I find that my love for baseball is renewed.