ALBANY -- State government paused Wednesday as it rarely does this time of year to honor former New York Mets star Mike Piazza who will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in July.
Wearing a white, open collar dress shirt and standing beside his wife, actress and model Alicia Rickter, Piazza listened to Democrats and Republicans honor him for his career with the Mets and for the most emotional of his more than 400 home runs.
On Sept. 21, 2001, as New York was shaken by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Piazza hit an 8th inning home run that would carry the Mets over the Atlanta Braves and give New Yorkers a reason to cheer.
“After that emotional game, you said, ‘The hardest thing I ever did as a professional athlete was to play that game … we had to win that game,’” said Sen. Jose Peralta (D-Queens). “It relieved the pain a little bit.”
“It was a moment that told us after Sept. 11 that it was OK to breathe again; that we can truly as a nation look forward,” said Sen. James Seward (R-Oneonta), whose district includes the Cooperstown museum and hall of fame. “Baseball can do that.”
At an event with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at the governor’s mansion, Piazza said the Mets never gained permission from the baseball commissioner to wear the caps of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the NYPD and the NYFD to honor the first responders at the game.
“We all looked at each other and said to the commissioner, ‘Well you’re going to have to fine us, because we are going to go and wear them in the games anyway,’” Piazza said.
Cuomo called Piazza the embodiment of the spirit of New York.
“He won the game and it was just an expression of, ‘We are New York. You can knock us down, but we are not out and it’s not over until it’s over. And we go through tough times but we come back twice as strong,’” Cuomo said.
Piazza played for the Mets from 1998 to 2005. Through his career, he went from being drafted low -- the 62nd round by the Los Angeles Dodges -- to becoming one of the best hitting catchers the game has seen. He had 396 homers as a catcher among his more than 400 homers. Ken Griffey Jr. will also be inducted into the hall in July.
“It’s been the greatest blessing of my life and my career to have been traded to the great state of New York and play in the great city of New York City,” Piazza said Wednesday.
In the Senate chamber, Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) took a moment on the floor that most political handlers would have advised him against when he lamented that his former desk mate in the chamber, former Republican Sen. Thomas Libous (R-Binghamton), would have been enthused to be part of the brief ceremony. Gianaris said he and Libous, who lost his seat last year in a corruption conviction, used to share score updates and news on the Mets during slow periods in the legislative session.
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) edited the proclamation honoring Piazza to note he played for several “amazing” seasons for the Mets, the adjective used for the Mets by fans.
“You make us all proud,” Flanagan said. “I think you are a great ambassador for professional sports … you distinguished yourself on the field and, equally if not more importantly, off the field. Thank you.”