QUEENS — Twenty-two years on from his famous home run that helped guide a wounded city toward the first steps of healing, Hall of Famer and New York Mets legend Mike Piazza has also developed into the custodian looking after and honoring one of the most painful moments in American history.
His visits to local firehouses around New York City now consist of numerous men and women who were born after the terrorist attacks stole the lives of 2,753 civilians and first responders at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
“We have a duty to educate the next generations,” Piazza said on Monday afternoon at Citi Field. ‘On a personal level, my kids were born after 9/11 and I think the way we came together that week as a city, as a country, and as a family is the way I hope we enlighten and teach the next generation going forward and the lessons learned so that it’ll never happen again… The stories of courage and bravery and self-sacrifice and all the things that are indicative of our country, that transcends any differences that we may have at this point.
“The unity we had that week out of a very horrible tragedy was one of the finest moments in our country.”
Piazza will forever be linked to the city’s recovery efforts — his home run in the bottom of the eighth inning at Shea Stadium on Sept. 21 against Atlanta Braves reliever Steve Karsay proved to be the game-winner in the first baseball game played in New York City since the attacks.
“The more time goes by and the more I reflect on it, I also understand that it wasn’t just me,” Piazza said. “I was in that particular situation and was fortunate to come through but I’m a man of faith and I truly felt people pulling for me. I really did. It’s something I can’t explain. I can’t crystalize it… but I did feel this rush of support emotionally, spiritually.
“We realized baseball is important but it’s not as important as family and friends and the bigger things of life. That’s something that’s been sort of touching for me and emotional for me in the last three or four years.”
It’s that moment that is always at the forefront of Piazza’s ledger as one of the finest moments of a Hall-of-Fame career — a moment that was even included on his plaque that proudly hangs in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.
Yet while the wounds of 9/11 are still indescribably deep for many, the passage of time will naturally dim a painful day that Piazza admitted “may not be something on the forefront of people’s minds,” anymore. It’s why he wants to see a national day of remembrance “from a federal level.”
“Make it a day of not just remembering those that passed,” Piazza began, “but the bravery of the first responders and the first responders and the self-sacrifice that exemplifies what we are as a country that even though we can have extreme differences, we all do pull together at the right times when we need to.”
In that comes a role for the Mets to play, a kind of role that they graciously and selflessly took 22 years ago whether it was volunteering their time for relief efforts or providing an outlet in the form of a baseball game just 10 nights after what for many was their darkest day.
Asked by amNewYork if the Mets should play every year at home on Sept. 11, Piazza said, “I hope so,” suggesting that there’s another charge that he could lead to help commemorate each anniversary. The Mets have spent roughly half of the last 10 anniversaries of Sept. 11 on the road.
It was Piazza who went after Major League Baseball in 2019 after Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre denied the Mets’ request to wear FDNY, NYPD, and other first-responder hats. On Monday, for a third straight year, the Mets wore those commemorative hats as they kicked off a three-game set against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“As the years unfolded, there was some controversy and some pushback from some who wanted to shelve it or said it was time to move on,” Piazza said. “But this is who we are as an organization…. This is just something that is so special to us. It’s part of who we are. This organization moving forward, it will always be a part of us. It could be 50 years from now, and I know this organization is going to honor 9/11. It’s symbolic of our relationship with this community and for those who protect us.
“I hope the politicians who are there regardless of your affiliation honor those and continue to honor those because there are certain things that need to be remembered and that bravery is something that I believe we need to continue… It may not be something on the forefront of people’s minds, but I hope we continue to impress upon that and teach people that sometimes in life, it’s not what you get, it’s what you give.”