Michael Piazza


97_lasorda_piazza.JPGIn 1968, I was the manager of the Ogden Dodgers in the Pioneer League.  I remember receiving the great news that my good friend, Vince Piazza, and his wife, had just had another baby boy, Michael.  Vince is like a brother to me, so when his family celebrated, so did mine.

 

As Godfather to Michael’s brother, I treated him like he was another one of my godsons. 

 

I used to bounce him on my knee when he was a baby.

 

From the time he was 10 years old to the time he went away to play baseball at the University of Miami, he would be my bat boy when we would play the Phillies.

 

I got him into Miami, but as a freshman he didn’t play much and wanted to go somewhere that he would play every day.  I called my good friend and fellow coach Demi Mainieri, who at the time was the head coach at Mimi Dade College.  I asked Demi if I sent Michael to his college, would he play every day.  Demi agreed that he would, so Michael transferred.  I was happy to help him go somewhere that he could develop his skills.

 

In June of 1988, as we were making our playoff push, I got the Dodgers to draft Michael.  We drafted him in the 62nd round, which meant there were 1,026 players taken ahead of him.

 

After being drafted, Michael didn’t hear anything from the Dodgers, and Vince called me to see what was going on.  I had him fly Michael out to LA to work out for our scouts.

 

After putting on a hitting display, they wanted to get his schedule and go see him play.

 

“You want to go see a kid play who you drafted in the 62nd round?”

 

“Would you sign him if he was a short stop?” I asked.

 

“Sure.”

 

“Well would you sign him if he was a catcher?”

 

“Sure, but he’s a first baseman.”

 

“Sign him,” I told them.  “He is now a catcher.”

 

They signed Michael, and we immediately sent him to Campo Las Palmas, our baseball academy in the Dominican Republic.  Ralph Avila, who founded and ran Campo, took him under his wing.  Michael was the first American player to go to the DR and live and workout there.

 

He didn’t know a word of Spanish, and the players he lived and worked with didn’t know a word of English.  But they had the common goal of making it to Dodger Stadium. 

 

He would work out all day at the academy, and at night he would go warm up pitchers for the Licey club.

 

He would take hours and hours and hours of batting practice.

 

Through endless hours of hard work and determination, Michael made it off the island, all the way to Los Angeles.  And when he did he made an immediate impact.

 

He never stopped believing in himself, and never lost sight of his goal.

 

Now he is calling it a career and hanging them up.  There’s a locker in Cooperstown waiting for him.  He has more career home runs than any catcher in the history of baseball.

 

I was proud of him when he was my bat boy.  I was proud of him when he played college baseball.  I was proud of him when he was drafted.  I was proud of him when he went to the Dominican.  I was proud of him when he became a Dodger.  I was proud of him when he won the Rookie of the Year.  I was proud to see him play in the World Series.  I was proud when he became the all-time leading catcher in home runs and that he finished with a batting average over .300.  I was proud to see him get married and have a daughter.  I am proud that he was a 12-time All-Star, and I am proud to say that one day he will be in the Hall of Fame.

 

But what I am most proud of is his heart, and his determination.  What he has accomplished is the perfect example of what someone can attain if they believe in themselves.

 

I love you, Michael.

6 Comments

tommy and mike, italian baseball and italian people are proud of you!

Thank you, Tommy Lasorda, for making Mike Piazza the player that he became known as – one of the greatest catchers in Major League Baseball. You seem to have a strong connection with a handful of the players that you worked with in the past. You’re doing an excellent job, and that picture of you and Piazza is magnificent. It should go right into the Louvre!
http://dodgersblog.mlblogs.com

Hi Tommy
I’ll never forget the first time I saw Piazza come to the plate.
He hit a home run against the Mets in a spring training game in Florida.
I never could imagine him as anything but a Dodger.
I always said he was the best catcher we had since Campanella.
I’ll never forget the night in Bamontes when I got yours, Karros’ & Piazza’s autographs.
I remember when they were negotiating his contract.
I always wondered why you couldn’t keep him a Dodger.
After the day Mike said that it looked bad and he was heading for free agency every thing went downhill.
That was the saddest day since the Dodgers moved to L.A., when he was traded to the Marlins.
Too bad he spent so much time with the Mets but at least I got to see him play more often even if it was in the wrong uniform.

Thank you very much for sharing this story with us Tommy. I learned things I didn’t know from this. It’s unfortunate he thanked Mets organization and Mets fans and I think he wants to go into hall of fame as a Met, hopefully Mike realizes what the Dodgers have done for him.

Tommy,

Thanks for mentioning that 1968 Pioneer League team. I was 10 years old in ’68, a season ticket holder at Affleck Field in Ogden, UT. That summer I won a team autographed baseball on a Cream ‘O Weber Dairy night promotion. I still have that ball, in a suitable display case, preparing to hand down to my eight year-old son, who was given the game ball in his very first game (two years ago) for going 3/3 and two put outs in his first game.

1968 was also the year of the “Mini Murderer’s Row” in Ogden, but my ball doesn’t have Steve Garvey’s signature. Yours, Bobby Valentine, Billy Buckner, Sandy Vance and many others are all there.

I also have a 1969 Program – Opening Day – that I got Duke Snider’s autograph on, as he was there to throw out the first pitch. Add to that a newspaper clipping with a photo of me and an Ogden Dodger at the mini camp you came to, being instructed on proper fielding position, and I have MANY great memories of watching, learning and playing this great game.

Thanks for the many nights of enjoyment in rickety old Affleck Park, talking with pitchers in the “Bull Pen” (folding chairs along the fence line), watching you and your teams chase their dream. Whenever my Dad and I talk baseball, we always wind up with stories of watching you “Belly-Bump” (as my father called it) a home plate upmire, disputing a call.

Last night I was playing poker with Tarot cards. I got a full house and four people died.
http://www.nicetick.com
- Air Jordan

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