By: John Santamaria
Edited By: Jennelle Alfred
When the calendar turned to 2016 last January, I knew what one of the first big baseball stories of the season was going to be ¾ a long overdue announcement. Former Mets catcher Mike Piazza received the call that all MLB players dream of someday getting: he was going to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
As a Mets fan, and a baseball fan, this was an exciting moment because Piazza was my favorite player as a kid. I had just started getting into the game right around the time he arrived in New York in 1998.
On January 6, 2016 the Mets announced that in a pregame ceremony on July 30, 2016 they will retire Piazza’s Number 31 at Citi Field. This marked the 2nd player to wear a Mets uniform, in the history of the team, to have a retired number. The only other player is the greatest pitcher to ever wear the Mets blue and orange: Number 41 Tom Seaver. These two Mets legends, Seaver and Piazza, are also the only members of the Hall of Fame to be inducted wearing a New York Mets cap.
I have been to Cooperstown a number of times, and although I didn’t want to go to the induction ceremony, attending the retirement night at Citi Field was a must see event for me. The reason is, as special as the Hall of Fame induction ceremony is to those who go each July, the event at Citi Field will celebrate my memories of Piazza’s career playing for the New York Mets.
In late February I quickly bought tickets for the July 30 game, which was this past Saturday, and I don’t regret it one bit.
The night of the game had a questionable forecast but it didn’t stop me and my two friends from going ¾ as we knew the ceremony would still go on. We had a great view from the 500 level behind home plate and had a clear sight of everything that took place. I couldn’t help but get emotional throughout the ceremony as my childhood was relived in a video tribute. I remember so many of the big home runs he hit on the way to back to back postseason appearances in 1999 and 2000, which included winning the National League Pennant in 2000.
I also got to see some of my other favorite ex-Mets players in attendance: Al Leiter, Edgardo Alfonzo and Cliff Floyd.
Those moments from the late 1990’s into the early part of the 2000’s are days, as a Mets fan, I will never forget. The emotional part of the night was listening to his Hall of Fame speech as he recalled the events of September 11, 2001. I remember the night of September 21, 2001 when Piazza hit that infamous home run (in the bottom of the 8th inning against the Braves) in the first game back after the tragic events in New York City. The way he and the Mets came back that night was extraordinary, and he was a leader in helping this city recover.
On a personal note, as I watched Number 31 get retired, I can’t forget to also look at the groundbreaking way that Piazza and the Mets have impacted my life.
When I was 10 years old in 2001, I won a Mets Broadcasting Contest which was an opportunity for kids to do play by play of classic Mets highlights from the 2000 season, and also win incredible prizes. I beat out 130 kids and got the chance of a lifetime from the Mets organization. At a game during the 2001 season, I got to interview former player Joe McEwing ¾ in the Mets dugout at Shea Stadium. I also announced the pregame starting lineups for that day’s game.
The opportunity to say Mike Piazza’s name at Shea in front of 50,000 people was incredible and a moment I will never forget.Piazza is the greatest hitting catcher of all time and a major part of my childhood and especially my introduction to the game of baseball. I am proud to be a fan of this team and as Piazza said in his Hall of Fame speech, “No fans rock the house like Mets fans.”
This past weekend made me even more proud to root for this baseball team and to stick with them no matter what. I will look back on this night as a memorable one for me as a Mets fan because of what Mike Piazza is all about.
Congratulations Mike Piazza and thank you for the incredible memories!