The goatee is back, as is the shaggy hair protruding over the edges of Team Italy's blue cap. Mike Piazza looks like a ballplayer again. The clean-shaven author, the guy from the book tour, has been shelved for the time being.
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Piazza is pleased with "Long Shot," even if some of the Mets are not, and he understands if a few people may be unhappy with him. Sitting in the dugout Tuesday morning at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, shortly after Italy had finished with batting practice, Piazza asserts that's what his reality was around the Mets.
"In the book, it would have been disingenuous if it wasn't honest," Piazza told Newsday. "I know the city. I'm a pragmatic guy. I never carried any resentment because some of the idiosyncrasies of the club were unorthodox, right? I mean, c'mon. People need to know it wasn't coming from a place of malice or rancor.
"It was coming from a place of truth, and a good place for me. I wouldn't trade that part of my life for anything. It was a fun time. It was challenging. It was emotional. It was a unique animal. But that's part of being in the city, and that's part of the Mets. The Mets have always been that blue-collar team and the Yankees are like the Wizard of Oz. And I think they need to embrace that."
Even so, Piazza does admit his relationship with the Mets has felt more distant lately and he couldn't really put his finger on why. Returning for the 10th anniversary of 9-11 at Citi Field sticks in his mind as a powerful event, but he stressed that it's more difficult for him to be around the team because of his family life in Miami.
After having a front-row seat for many of those circus moments -- from Bobby Valentine's antics to Piazza's first-base experiment just to name a few -- in eight seasons in Flushing, Piazza didn't seem to mind stepping away from the spotlight. He knows it still follows him now and he is partly responsible for that, because of his book release.
"I wouldn't say we're growing apart -- that's too strong," he said of the Mets. "It's not terrible. It's not bad. It's just kind of in a little bit of a lull, I guess. I think when you move on, and just start a new life, a new somewhere, it's tough to stay connected and they've gone through some changes as well.
"I would say that I've turned a page in my life personally. I think if there is a future for me there, I truly believe things will work out. I'm always optimistic."
As for some Mets-related events he may have skipped, Piazza said he's always showed up when it's worked for his schedule. If there have been any ill will toward him since his retirement after the 2007 season, Piazza shrugged that off. "OK, maybe there were some hard feelings or whatever," Piazza said. "But this was fun. This was baseball. When you step back and look at it, you can have a chuckle because it was funny. This is baseball -- it's not brain surgery.
"I think we all need to take a breath and not be so sensitive, because Lord knows, at the time, I was sensitive to it and now I can laugh at it. That's why I wanted to detach from the game and exhale a little bit."
But the game keeps pulling Piazza back in, just as it did when he was denied entrance to the Hall of Fame. He's still dealing with the PED suspicions that likely led to his failure to get in. If that infuriates him, Piazza doesn't let on. In the book, he denied taking steroids. "I can only tell my story," he said. "That's all I can do. I can't make people think a certain way. Some people just have their minds made up. If that's the way it is, I can't worry about it. You just can't."
Piazza describes the Hall of Fame voting as a "process" and coming up short on the first try doesn't mean its doors will always remain closed to him. When asked if there was something wrong with that "process," Piazza laughed.
"Well, I don't think anything is perfect," he said. " . . . There's a lot of great players who had to wait their turn and that's just all I can do."
Piazza may get his turn with the Mets this season if the club's own Hall of Fame committee decides to vote him in. Again, there may be a few hurdles to clear, and some feelings to patch up, but Piazza sounds willing.
"If you are going to go forward, you do have to kind of meet in the middle," he said. "I really don't know what they're thinking because they really don't reach out. They know how to get a hold of me. My phone line is always open."