so long, mike

May 20, 2008

Today is a sad day as Mike Piazza has announced his retirement. Certainly this comes as no surprise, as he entered the twilight of his career, battling through injury and dwindling production, and began the season without a team to call home. It was a matter of time before we had to say goodbye, and now that time has come.

People who meet me for the first time always look at me quizzically when they find out I’m a Mets fan. Shea stadium vendors check my California ID and view my Mets hat with askance. A few weeks ago I was at Random Williamsburg Hipster Bar and a decidedly Long Island bro attacked me with joy and commiseration when he saw me in my away cap. “Are ya a real fan?” he asked. It’s funny how many times I’ve had to qualify.

To those who don’t know, I grew up in Los Angeles. Yes yes, boo hiss. Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1980s with a rabid sports-loving family (football excepted; I never rooted for the Rams or Raiders even when they played in L.A.) was a good time. You had the Magic-era Showtime Lakers (Retrospectively, this must also be the beginning of my convoluted love/hate/respect relationship with the city of Boston), UCLA basketball (though they didn’t do squat in the 80s), and of course the Dodgers. I knew I fell in love with baseball after watching Kirk Gibson’s home run in the ’88 World Series. And I thought I’d forever be ensconced in Dodger blue. I mean, look!:

Fucking shudder, huh?

My Dodger love only enhanced when Mike Piazza burst onto the scene in 1993, being named Rookie of the Year. He became, immediately, the first baseball player I ever truly loved. I watched as he hit the crap out of the ball. I watched every second as he caught Hideo Nomo’s no-no. And in spite of an always disappointing Dodger team, I could at least revel in his performance.

And then he was traded away. I renounced my love of the Dodgers! I renounced my love of baseball! I refused to watch a game, refused to look at box scores, refused to do anything at all. My first baseball boyfriend was gone from my childhood team, and it was gutting.

After I found out he was traded from purgatory the Marlins to the Mets, I loosened up a little. I’d always liked the Mets. I had an affinity for New York, had a dream to live there one day, and would quietly cheer on their sports teams (not the Yankees though; even at an early age I knew that much). And because of their reputation as perpetual underdogs (along with the ’86 team’s legendary Bad Boy rep), the Mets were a team easy for me to like. And with Piazza, grow to love.

I followed him from LA to New York, not just in terms of switching dyed-in-the-wool fan allegiance, but eventually in locale as well. And it pleased me greatly that Piazza continued his play from LA into New York. Maybe he had better years numbers-wise with LA, but Piazza became the beloved face of the Mets, as far as I’m concerned. He led the charge in the team’s over-achievement, made it so the other New York team got its own deserved face-time. And I’m glad that New York came to love Piazza even more than LA did. They knew what they had, unlike my formerly beloved hometown team.

Thanks for the memories, Mike. Without you, I wouldn’t be the baseball fan that I am now. And I certainly wouldn’t be the Mets fan I grew to so ragingly, obsessively, irrationally, lovingly become. Eh, but I won’t blame you for that.

(Yes the Mets lost to Glavine today. Blah.)