Mike Piazza stepped just inside Ladder 3 firehouse and carefully read over the 12 memorial plaques on the wall.
It has been almost 10 years since the former Mets catcher hit the home run that came to define the resilience of New Yorkers in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. And though Piazza is very proud to be a part of one of the memorable moments in New York sports history, he's not comfortable at all with the idea of being called a hero.
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"In our country, we hold sports stars up as heroes," Piazza said Friday, "but it's these guys here who define who real heroes are."
Ladder 3, on East 13th Street, lost 12 men -- half its members -- in the attack. The planes hit the World Trade Center right in the middle of a shift change and many of those who died weren't even on duty. On Friday, Piazza, former pitcher John Franco, current Met David Wright and Mets chief operating officer Fred Wilpon all visited the East Village firehouse. They signed autographs, posed for pictures and talked about their memories of Sept. 11 and its immediate aftermath.
Piazza, who lived a couple of blocks from Ladder 3 at the time, was in Pittsburgh with the Mets when the attack occurred. The team drove back to New York and he has very strong memories of what it was like to be a New Yorker in the 10 days between the attack and the Sept. 21 game against the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium.
That game was the first major sporting event in New York after the attack, and Piazza said Friday that he had mixed feelings heading into it.
"Coming into the game, I didn't really know if we should have been there at all," he said. "That whole week or so caused everyone to examine what life is about, in a way, and sports wasn't that important."
Wright had just been drafted and watched the game from his parents' house in Virginia Beach. Franco was in the dugout when Piazza came to bat. And Wilpon was sitting in the stands, next to Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a lifelong Yankees fan.
"It was a very emotional ballgame," Wilpon said. "And then that big sigh, that big cheer, when Mike hit the home run. It's something you never, ever forget."
Piazza says it is impossible to describe what he felt when he hit the two-run homer in the eighth inning that lifted the Mets to a 3-2 win. And with a decade to reflect, he now believes that it was a very important thing that the Mets played that game.
Said Piazza: "I think the special thing about it is that it put to rest our fears and anxiety about being there. The fact that we did go out there and have a great night for our team and the city was a real blessing for us all."