On the day he rounded the bases with tears in his eyes after 9/11, Mike Piazza recognized that the essence of a baseball game is to "just be with people you care about." He expressed it and felt it again Sunday, and shed some more tears, too, as he was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame.
Piazza shared his moment with people he cares about: his family -- including his ailing father, Vince, in a wheelchair -- and some former teammates and a ballpark full of fans he considers friends. He admitted he had some rough moments when he became a Met in 1998, but the truth is, he will be one forever, on a plaque.
"I look back now in retrospect and realize it was just fate. I was just meant to be here,'' he said before an emotional ceremony that was attended by former Mets standouts -- Al Jackson, Edgardo Alfonzo, Ed Charles, John Franco, Dwight Gooden, Bud Harrelson, Keith Hernandez, Ed Kranepool, Rusty Staub, Mookie Wilson -- and finished with Piazza throwing the ceremonial first pitch to former teammate and current captain David Wright.
The man who hit more home runs as a catcher than anyone else in big-league history, and had the majority of those as a Met, reflected on the joy of being with the resurgent and interesting clubs of 1999 and 2000.
He acknowledged his iconic moment on Sept. 21, 2001. "Yeah, the home run was awesome and I was so blessed and fortunate that I was able to execute at that moment,'' he said during a news conference. "But to me, when I think about that day, it was that we were all together, with people we cared about, just trying to have a moment in a week of despair and fear.''
Piazza recalled an uneasy relationship with the fans in 1998, and he remembered deciding to "meet this head on'' by re-signing with the team. By his final game as a Met in 2005, he had become an immensely popular figure and the franchise's greatest hitter. He reflected on being asked to close down Shea Stadium alongside Tom Seaver.
"I never thought I would get out of junior college,'' he said. "To be on the same field with Tom Seaver and catch the last pitch from him, I can only say it's a miracle.''
On the field Sunday, a big smile crossed his face when he addressed his wife and two daughters (his 2-month-old son is too young to have made the trip from Florida). He choked up when he spoke to his dad.
Earlier, Piazza addressed the cloud that hangs over players from baseball's performance-enhancing drugs era, including him, even though he never has been named in any probe. He did not win election to the Baseball Hall of Fame on his first ballot.
"There is no place for PEDs in baseball, or any sport,'' he said. Of the Hall voting, he added: "I can only do like an artist: 'Here's my work, my canvas.' It's out of my hands.''
On Sunday, he had Citi Field in his hands, and in his heart. He told the fans: "God bless you and all of your families. And God bless the Mets.''