Mike Piazza’s First Game in Queens: 25 Years Later
May 23, 1998 – a date forever etched in my brain.
Twenty-five years ago on this date, Mike Piazza entered Shea Stadium for the first time, in full regalia, to play for the New York Mets as catcher against the Milwaukee Brewers.
I remember sitting in front of my television with my old man as the pre-game show was on and him telling me, “This is once in a generation.”
My excitement was at a fever pitch.
To understand the magnitude of Mike Piazza coming to Queens, you have to see where it began.
Early in 1998, Piazza wanted to get a contract hammered out with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Asking for a 7 year, $105 million contract, which would have made him the richest player in Major League Baseball. Dodgers countered with a 6 year, $76 million offer, which Piazza declined.
Dodger fans turned on Piazza due to him rejecting the deal, and Piazza countered with being disgruntled towards them, including blaming legendary broadcaster Vin Scully for turning fans against him.
On May 15, the Dodgers sent Piazza and Todd Zeile to the Florida Marlins for Gary Sheffield, Charles Johnson, Bobby Bonilla, Manuel Barrios, and Jim Eisenreich. Piazza left as a .331 career hitter, with 177 home runs and 563 RBIs.
But he wasn’t long for the defending World champion Marlins, who were in the midst of a firesale after winning the 1997 Fall Classic. After five games, Florida swung him to the Mets for Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall, and Geoff Goetz.
For the first time in the late 1980s, there was a true positive buzz around Queens. My dad’s words hung heavy as Piazza strolled out to the clubhouse to talk to the media, dressed in his ivory Mets gear.
The only question I had as a twelve year boy: “When would Mike Piazza make an impact?”
The answer came in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Piazza was 0-2, with a hard groundout to shortstop Jose Valetin in the bottom of the first, and a strikeout in the third.
On the first pitch to Piazza, Juden threw a beam right down Broadway, and the catcher made him pay. Piazza took the fastball opposite way in between first and second for a base knock. The ball rolled all the way back to the wall in right center field, nearly hitting the giant GAP banner. Right fielder Jeremy Burnitz cut it off and launched it to second baseman Fernando Vina. Franco, not known for his speed, chugged around third and was waved around by third base coach Cookie Rojas. Vina threw it home, but it was too late, and Franco was safe at the plate. Piazza, officially with a double, advanced to third on the relay home, was ruled safe after beating the tag by Jeff Cirillo, and the Mets lead 2-0.
Shea Stadium was rocking, and every fan, including Jerry Seinfeld, gave Piazza a standing ovation. My dad was right. This was “once in a generation”.
Twenty five years ago, Mike Piazza made his Mets debut. It was the beginning of a long successful run in blue and orange, culminating in a Hall of Fame nod in 2016, and the number 31 retired in the same year.
The question remains: Did Mike Piazza make an impact?