Mike Piazza makes his ballet debut in Miami, a hit man again

Mike Piazza knows that some people think it's funny for a baseball player to take up ballet, but the former catcher hopes to turn whoever is jeering him now into dance fans when he takes the stage with Miami City Ballet next month. (April 17)

MIAMI - More than 20 years after making his major-league debut, Mike Piazza, considered one of the best-hitting catchers in history, made another debut.

This time he traded a baseball jersey for a tan suit, loud tie and dark fedora, and a baseball bat for a gun. Well, sort of.

Piazza, who retired from the big leagues in 2007 and holds the record for most home runs by a catcher with 427, made his ballet debut Friday night. He played a hit man in a Miami City Ballet production of George Balanchine's "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami.

Despite the vast differences between baseball and ballet, being on stage has brought back old memories for Piazza, who played eight seasons with the Mets.

"I haven't had this much attention since I hit two home runs in one game or played in the World Series," Piazza said after Friday afternoon's dress rehearsal. "When I get up there, it's almost like a flashback and a deja vu feeling. But I don't have to worry about a 90-mile-an-hour fastball coming at me anymore."

The connection between baseball and ballet began with Piazza's 6-year-old daughter, Nicoletta, who is a student at the Miami City Ballet. After being urged by his daughter and his wife, Alicia Rickter, Piazza was thrust into the role.

Being around the team of performers leading up to Friday night's performance brought Piazza an even deeper appreciation for ballet and the arts, and hopes that his involvement in this production can shine the spotlight on both in Miami.

"The preparation, the discipline, perfecting your craft . . . It's actually pretty similar and something I can relate to," said Piazza, 44, a Miami Beach resident. "To see how hard these performers work is impressive. It's similar to [baseball] in that you see the finished product but you don't see all the practice that happens behind the scenes."

The 12-time All-Star's role did not call for any dance moves or difficult choreography. It was not his first swing at acting, as he had appeared in the movie "Two Weeks Notice" with Sandra Bullock and numerous TV shows and commercials.

In the play, Piazza's character is hired by a disgruntled dancer to kill the production's protagonist. But in the end, Piazza's character is arrested by police officers who thwart his plans.

It was his first time performing in front of a live audience out of a baseball uniform, which was also an area of familiarity for Piazza.

"It was like I was playing in a game because it's one take. There's no 'let's do it again' if you mess up," Piazza said. "You really have to concentrate because there's no luxury of a 'take two.' "

Piazza walked in from the stage during the prologue and delivered his lines cleanly before taking his place in a booth next to the stage. He watched the rest of the play from there until its conclusion, when he was stopped from carrying out his murderous plot.

"It was fun watching the show from the inside,'' he said. "It was a great way to connect with my girls and it allowed me to experience [ballet] in a way I never did before.''

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