By Mike Steffanos
With Mike Piazza's return to New York, perhaps we could temporarily put aside all of the manufactured talk radio controversies over late-night cab rides, favoritism of Wright over Reyes, Paul Lo Duca's love life, booing opposing players and the rest of the nonsense that floats out on the endless radio waves. The man who single-handedly breathed new life into a moribund franchise in 1998 is returning to town for the only time this season, and that truly is news.
For those of us who go back far enough, the years from 1991 to Piazza's arrival in town were some of the bleakest in the history of the Mets. They may not have matched the late '70s/early '80s Mets for sheer incompetence, but they had a special kind of ugliness -- featuring expensive mercenaries who came to New York supposedly to revive the team, but did little beyond collecting a paycheck and counting the days until the end of the season. I've never felt more alienated from my team than I did during those years.
Piazza seemed like a strange choice to become the focal point of this team. A quiet, somewhat reticent superstar, he seemed better adapted to the detachment of the Los Angeles faithful rather than the in-your-face passions of the New York fan. Certainly, his transition was not without some speed bumps. It speaks well to what was inside of this special ballplayer that he won us over, and we won him over. The player that no one thought would stay here not only stayed, but thrived. Through good years and bad, there was always a reason to watch the Mets -- each and every at bat, there was a good chance that Piazza would do something special.
Despite my extreme (and eventually well-founded) reservations about how the team was being run, Mike Piazza brought me back to being a passionate Mets fan again. Still, I refused to come to ball games at Shea Stadium for many years. That finally ended on the penultimate day of the 2005 baseball season when, on the spur of the moment, Lisa and I bought tickets on line and drove the 90+ miles to Queens to say our goodbyes in person. Sure enough, though, Willie gave Mike the day off. We settled in to watch a good game that the Mets won 3-1 behind Jae Seo, featuring a long home run by David Wright. Still, the highlight was Mike Piazza coming up as a pinch hitter.
As one, we all stood and cheered our lungs out. When Mike struck out, we all cheered again. Everyone around, both men and women, had tears in our eyes and a little touch of sadness in our hearts. There would be great players in Shea in 2006, but one great player would not be returning. Mike Piazza never was able to bring a championship to New York, but he gave us back our dignity as fans, and he gave us a reason to watch. We'll never forget you, Mike.
AP: Mets Claim Ledee
The Mets claimed outfielder Ricky Ledee on waivers from the Dodgers. Ledee has been a solid left-handed bat off the bench in his career, and should fulfill that role for a Mets team that needs one. Matt Cerrone from MetsBlog is reporting that Eli Marrero will be released to make room for Ledee, which sounds about right. The only other possibility would be if Cliff Floyd's Achilles' tendon was bad enough to require another trip to the DL.
Another Classy Mike Returns
Mike Piazza is the big story today, but there is another Mike returning to Shea tonight. When Cameron was traded for Xavier Nady I wrote the following, which still holds true:
I promise not to get all misty-eyed on you, but I'd like to take a minute to voice one fan's appreciation of Mike Cameron. I was aware of Cameron before he signed with the Mets 2 years ago, but I certainly wasn't a fan. I wasn't all that excited when they signed him, although I did feel that the Mets were long overdue in getting a real centerfielder at Shea stadium.
Then Cameron hurt his wrist and started really struggling right from the get-go. The fans started booing his every move, especially his embarrassingly futile at bats. The boys on WFAN were killing him on a daily basis. I figured at the time that here was another guy that was going to get chewed up and spit out by the Big Apple.
But a funny thing happened: Cameron didn't let the negative stuff bury him. He battled back and had a decent year for a guy who was under the Mendoza line for a good chunk of the season. He didn't become an a**hole in the clubhouse like so many have before him. He handled a move to right field this past year with class and dignity, too; especially considering the player replacing him wasn't his equal as a center fielder.
Good luck, Mike. I've been watching this team for a long time, and you are definitely one of the good guys. I'll be rooting for you -- as long as your Padres aren't playing the Mets.
I still feel the same way. I hope both Mikes play well -- and I hope the Mets win all 3 games.
Omar Minaya Song
I received the following e-mail today:
Here's a song I wrote about our fearless leader.
Give it a listen, pass it on, post it?
Check out the bio on my website www.livingstonleo.com
Hey, why not? Understand I take no credit for this, as I can't even hum in tune. Here is Livingston Leo's song about Omar, note that the file is in MP3 format and is quite large, just under 5MB:
Faith and Fear in Flushing: We like Mike
Greg from FAFIF has a really moving piece about Mike Piazza's last game as a Met.