At a recent golf outing benefiting the Brooklyn/Queens CYO athletic program, I was lucky enough to meet and interview the legendary Mike Piazza. Not only was he a great baseball player, but he is an even nicer person.
As Mets fans, we will always remember Piazza for his on-field achievements such as leading the team to the 2000 World Series, hitting a memorable home run after 9/11 and passing Carlton Fisk for most home runs by a catcher.
However, what some fans may not realize is that Piazza is a deeply religious individual who relied on his Catholic faith during his playing career and now as a retiree from baseball.
“It just brings me a lot of peace,” said Piazza. “It allows me to deal with the issues of my new challenges in life for being a husband and a father and having a family.”
There was a time when Piazza lived and died by his success on the field. But once he started realizing the bigger picture, he was able to let go of that mentality and nurture other more important things in his life.
Piazza always prayed during games. Though he didn’t necessarily ask God to help him hit a home run every at-bat, he instead prayed for God to allow him to do his best.
“I just prayed to God to clear my mind and allow me to execute and do the best that I can,” said Piazza. “If I got a hit or didn’t get a hit, it really was irrelevant to me. Success and failure is not necessarily measured in wins and losses or numbers.”
Throughout his career, Piazza claims he was more concerned with the little things. He enjoyed connecting with fans on a personal level and encouraging people to push past certain limitations.
His story does have an inspirational value since he was basically drafted as a favor to his father but wound up turning in a Hall of Fame worthy career.
Additionally, Piazza is flattered that fans, especially young ballplayers, were able to find joy based on his success.
“Inspiring kids to be Major Leaguers gives me a lot of pride,” said Piazza.
When Piazza was younger, he claims he was selfish ballplayer but in a way that made him a good player. However, he realized that he was given a gift and wanted others to share in that gift.
“Once we get to certain point in our lives, we need to internalize our success and really gives thanks for why we are successful,” said Piazza. “A lot of those things are a spiritual gift.”
This idea of a gift, Piazza claims, ties back to his devout faith.
“Faith is a gift,” said Piazza. “We need to get back to roots and understand the path to true peace. Ultimately, if you look inside your own heart, you’ll find peace.”
While it’s one thing to merely state one’s faith, Piazza actually put his faith to practice, and there was no greater example than September 21, 2001—the first game in New York after the 9/11 terrorists attacks.
During a time when it must have been extremely difficult to maintain his composure, Piazza affirms that he relied on prayer to help keep him focused.
He claims, “I remember specifically on the first base line when I first heard the bagpipes and I started to cry, I was saying to myself, ‘Please God, let me execute and do my job. Please help me hold it together.’”
As we all know, Piazza held it together quite well and launched the go-ahead home run in the eighth inning—later known as the “Healing Power of a Swing.”
“I truly believe that was divine intervention; that was God, or at least the Holy Spirit, working through me to calm me down, let me execute and do my job,” said Piazza.
In the end, Piazza credits both his faith and his playing ability as the reason he’ll wind up in the Hall of Fame. While he said he would always honor his Dodger past, he claims the New York Mets hold a special place in his heart.
“Coming to New York was tumultuous the way it happened, but it was meant to be,” said Piazza.
After speaking to him and realizing what a generous and spiritual person he is, there’s one other thing that’s meant to be: Piazza entering the Hall of Fame in 2013 wearing a Mets cap.
Follow me on Twitter @JMMancari.