You guys knew I would have some thoughts on this, right? Well, I cannot disappoint you. Here is the post that will go up on my blog later today. My memories of the Strongest Man In So Cal.
Yesterday, one of the greatest hitting catchers of all time announced his retirement. Mike Piazza. Mi-KEY to me. He started off as an LA Dodger back when I still claimed to be bleeding Dodger Blue. My love of the Dodgers was waning as I had been in San Diego long enough that the Padres were starting to tug at my heart. But I couldn't let go quite yet when this monster hitter appeared on the scene. Oh how I love catchers! Especially good looking, home run hitting catchers :-) Mike has a connection to the first one. #27 - Carlton Fisk for the Red Sox and # 72 for the White Sox. Kinda eerie then that Mike retires with 427 career home runs. Speaking of that - SportsBoy and I were blessed to see him hit #400. Why? Because he was a Padre for one magical season in 2006. Long time blog readers might recall my elation when my home town Padres signed Piazza. There was quite a bit of joy in mudville. Crazy me will always remember where I was when it was announced :-) I was very happy that I had decided to go for one last year of season tickets. Sportsboy and I immediately noted when photo day was scheduled. The opportunity to have our picture taken with Mike? Oh so priceless. Its hard to see but trust me, my knees are *knocking* here:
Alex and I share a lot of memories of Mike. It all starts back to a time he doesn't remember. The summer of 1998 I was watching a ton of Dodger games still along with following the Padres in their push to a World Series berth. Torn between two teams I was! The Dodger tv broadcasts could still be seen in San Diego and I watched a lot mostly to hear Vin Scully to the broadcasts and to watch Mike. I developed the habit of saying Mi-KEY whenever he would come up to bat. I guess I said it a lot because Alex's first official word was - Mi-KEY! Then it was on 8/11/05 while Mike was still with the Mets that I took Alex to the game for his b-day which was with the Mets in town. He was chosen on that day to be the Play Ball Kid which was a huge thrill and though Mike did not play that day, I still link him to it as he was an additional reason for us to go. Oh gosh, I just remembered another shared moment well before he joined the Padres. Must have been 2003, the Padres last year at the Q. It was the first full game that Alex and I attended together and I got us really good seats on the third base line to see the Mets and Mike. What we saw was the Mets turn a triple play AND Mike hit a grand slam. Bad day for our Padres, but a nice one for Mike and his team and Alex's first look at Mike in person.
2006 - oh we loved it. Sitting in our right field front row seats. Watching Mike warm up the starting pitcher in the bullpen and then walking out, usually having to stop part way to sing the National Anthem. A few times stopping right in front of us :-) Mike swinging that sweet bat and driving a home run in his very first at bat as a Padre right into the seats in front of us. Then there was a game late in the season when Piazza hit a triple. Yes, a 37 year old creaky-kneed catcher hitting a triple. It was damn funny because he was huffing and puffing as he rounded second and from our right field seats we were "pushing" at the air to "help" him get in to third. We laughed a long time over that one. He had a statistically strong season for the Padres in a year that they won their division (though died as always in the first round of the playoffs). I thought it was a great way to end his full-time catching career to be in the mild weather on the west coast where he had a history of very loyal fans. As a Dodger he was known as the Strongest Man in So Cal and for that one year in San Diego he showed flashes of that.
When he moved on to the A's last year so that he could primarily DH and then suffered a shoulder injury, I started saying then, time to retire. Newly married with his first child just born, I thought it would be better for his own legacy to just walk away, so ultimately I am glad no team picked him up this off season.
Ah, so many sweet memories. Our Mi-KEY. Eligible for his first Hall Of Fame ballot 2013. I will be doing everything I can to make sure that is one more memory that Alex and I share with him. Cooperstown, here we come!