New York Mets slugger Mike Piazza was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday with an emotional speech before 50,000 people in Cooperstown, NY.
His day began early with 7:30 Mass at St. Mary’s Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church, a short walk from the Hall of Fame. As he left the church, he met with a beaming Father John Rosson, who said, “We have a celebrity in church this morning.” Piazza asked for and received a special blessing from the priest. Piazza signed autographs and took pictures with parishioners.
In his acceptance speech Piazza thanked both his parents and described his Catholic faith as the greatest gift of all from his parents, especially his mother, Veronica:
She gave me the gift of my Catholic faith, the greatest gift a mother could give a child, which has had a profound impact on my career and has given me patience, compassion and hope. Pope Benedict the XVI said, ‘One who has hope, lives differently.’ Mom, you raised five boys, and you were always there for me.’
Piazza has often credited his Catholic upbringing as being the foundation of his life. He was one of the athletes featured in the evangelization movie, "Champions of Faith", about the journey of Christian athletes. He regularly attends special Masses held at baseball stadiums around the country for the players and is sometimes a lector.
Piazza's emotional ties to New York are highlighted in 2001 clips of his home run that propelled the Mets past Atlanta in the first game back from the World Trade Center attacks. Almost 15 years after the two-run shot cleared the fence at Shea Stadium, Piazza is a constant witness to the impact of the attacks, and he talked about it again over the Hall of Fame weekend:
The significance for me, personally, is the amount of people I see who want to talk about that moment," Piazza said. "I was sitting on a plane one time with my headphones on. It was a four-hour flight, and just as the plane was landing, the guy next to me said, 'You know, I lost my brother on 9/11, and I was at that game and I just want to thank you for what you did.' I was completely blown away. I listened to him and told him a few stories and he really enjoyed it.
Piazza has said that the firefighters, police and families who had to continuing living after the trauma of 9/11 were the true heroes.
He also thanked and honored his father, Vince, in how he was raised:
My father’s faith in me, often greater than my own, is the single most important factor of me being inducted into this Hall of Fame. Thank you, Dad. I know he watched every game, cried when I cried, was angry when I was angry and celebrated more than I could ever celebrate. He was a man deeply devoted to his family and after having suffered a major stroke a few years ago, is stronger willed than ever.’
In an interview with BeliefNet, Piazza talked about having priorities in life and Christ at the center.
Because it's a game based on failure. It is a slice of life, so to speak, that life is adversity, and how you deal with adversity. And baseball, if you fail seven out of 10 times, you're a success. It's probably not the same numbers in life. But I still feel that in life it's not so much [about] the good times. It's what you find out about yourself during the bad times. Because when the times are going well, or things are going well, everyone's on their best behavior. And it's easy to be good. But when you go through adversity, when a couple goes through frustrations, or they go through a bankruptcy, or they have bills--all these things, you see a person's true colors. And you see a person's true grace under fire, so to speak.
As a player, you have to believe. I have to believe every day that when I get in that batter's box, good things are going to happen. I can't go up there thinking, "Oh, I'm going to strike out. Or, I'm going to hit into a double play." Or even if I'm 0 for 20, I believe that 21st time I'm going to get that hit. And that's the way I think we have to be in life, to realize that we are going to go through a tremendous amount of test and adversity and frustration.
We want to try to get closer to God. We want to try to be like Jesus. We always want to try to get on that horse and do the right thing, and be positive. And be positive not just for yourself but for other people.