Mike Piazza’s legacy with the Mets is tied so much to one home run in a game that meant little in the standings that it’s mentioned on his Hall of Fame plaque.
That blast on Sept. 21, 2001 — in the first sporting event in New York following the 9/11 attacks — helped beat the Braves and elevated the All-Star catcher into another realm among NYC sports heroes.
“I have been blessed to have some home runs and some big home runs,” Piazza said Saturday before the Mets and Yankees played at Citi Field, on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. “I have heard others say it so eloquently, that the game didn’t have postseason implications, it wasn’t a playoff game, it wasn’t a World Series game, [but] it had a bigger effect and bigger emotional value from all the fans and people in the city.
“I’m honored. It will always be with me and it will be on my Hall of Fame plaque when I am gone so my kids and grandkids will be able to go and remember it and look back and see and hopefully they can put it in context.”
The eighth-inning homer against Steve Karsay — a Queens native who had attended Christ the King High School — followed an emotional pregame ceremony that included first responders, with Mets players honoring the FDNY and NYPD by wearing caps emblazoned with their initials. Piazza has recalled just wanting to survive the night, without an emotional breakdown — the playing of bagpipes before the game had him teary-eyed.
Piazza was asked if there was one encounter with the fans since the monumental blast that has stuck with him over the years. He recalled a flight he was on and being approached by somebody who had lost a family member at the World Trade Center. The fan recalled his state of mourning and how his decision to attend the game that night at Shea Stadium lifted his spirits.
“That really stuck with me,” Piazza said. “Generally people just come up to me and they are curious. They want to know what I was thinking and did I feel the pressure.”
Piazza expressed admiration for players such as Pete Alonso, who have increased awareness about first responders and raised money for their cause through Tunnel to Towers.
“It shows the character of these guys,” Piazza said. “It shows the way he was raised. The values you have as a human being and as a man. We have a unique community here in New York, and I think that is something that has been emblematic of the players that have played in New York City down through the generations.
“We have always been approachable here in New York and we are part of the community and even though the game has changed, we are still people and people still look to us and relate to us because we play almost every day. We are not like the football guys or the basketball guys, we are like regular guys. Those guys are amazing. They are tall and guys are fast, but baseball players are like regular guys and I think that’s why we relate more to the fans because we are like regular guys.”