In 'Long Shot,' 12-time all-star Mike Piazza recounts his unlikely path from suburban Philadelphia to the big leagues and even how it led to a trip to the Vatican.
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When Piazza was 16, the Dodger connection led Ted Williams, who was appearing at a trading card show in King of Prussia, Pa., to drop by the Piazza home to see “Vince’s kid” take his backyard practice swings against a JUGS pitching machine. Williams urged him to stay back and wait on pitches and concluded that “hitting’s going to be his big suit.”Skip to next paragraph
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But despite Piazza’s countless rips at mechanical deliveries and efforts to build hand strength by crushing Tastykakes boxes, scouts had doubts about his ability to hit live pitching and his slow foot speed.
Only via a special tryout arranged while he served as the Dodgers teenage batboy one summer did he get an offer to play college ball at the University of Miami, where an assistant coach labeled him a “five o’clock hitter” – a guy whose most impressive hitting occurred in pregame batting practice. Piazza eventually switched to Miami-Dade Community College.
With his prospects for a professional career looking bleak, Lasorda intervened and ordered the Dodgers to make Piazza a courtesy draft pick – on the 62nd round of the 1988 draft. That meant he was the 1,390th player chosen.
The club had never seen him play a game and didn’t really have plans for Piazza until his dad leaned on Lasorda. Thereafter his dad paid for him to fly to L.A. for a private workout, in which Piazza crushed 20 or so balls out of the park. This started him up the ladder via experiences in the Instructional League and a stint as the first American player to spend time at the Dodgers’ winter camp in the Dominican Republic.
A fast learner, Piazza “arrived in heaven” in 1989 when he made his first appearance at Dodgertown, the franchise’s famed spring training camp, then located in Vero Beach, Fla. When opportunity finally knocked to join the parent club, he wasted no time in making his mark. As the National League Rookie of the Year in 1993 he batted .318 with 35 homers and 112 runs batted in. He also made that year’s NL All-Star Game roster, the first of 10 consecutive selections and 12 over his 16-year career.
Piazza played eight years for the Dodgers, but two acrimonious contract negotiations soured him on the organization. When things broke down the second time, he was dealt to the Florida Marlins. After only five games, he was acquired by the New York Mets.
Although subjected to what he called “serial booing” by fans early on, he eventually felt more appreciated playing in New York than he did in Los Angeles. As a result, if he’s ever voted into the Hall of Fame, he hopes to go in as a Met. (The folks who run the Cooperstown, N.Y., shrine make that call, but players are free to voice their preference.)