For me, the good ol’ days consisted of a roughly year-long period from September 1999 through September 2000 in which I wrote full-time, and made full-time money, for a pair of fledgling dot com companies.
One was Rouze.com, which was founded by two of my best friends and former co-editors from the campus newspaper at Hofstra University. Despite years of experience with my rampant procrastination, they brought me aboard as their sports guy, and I had a blast. Whatever I wanted to do, I did, as long as it was under 750 words.
My other job was with an outfit called ACSSports.com, which produced NYSports.net as well as the official team websites for several Major League Baseball teams, including the Mets (this was the year before MLB.com became what it is today). So there was a lot of opportunity to write two stories from the same interview, which is what I did here in a Q&A with Mike Piazza that took place during the summer of 2000.
(Oh and as for what Rouze.com was: We called it a Playboy for the web, because in addition to punchy articles aimed at guys, it also carried, umm, revealing pictures of models. It remained a Playboy for the web until Playboy bought us up and closed us down. This would become a running theme in my career in the dot-com world, but I suppose that’s a story for another time)
It seems hard to believe now, with Mike Piazza as much a New York fixture as the Statue of Liberty, but there was a time two years ago when the Mets’ catcher didn’t seem long for the Big Apple. But he survived his turbulent free agent year in New York and won fans over with his gritty attitude and ability to smash the ball like few others. And as we found out recently, success and a big contract hasn’t changed Piazza, who remains as hungry as ever.
ROUZE: What’s the biggest reason for your success this year?
Mike Piazza: I think I’ve really just become very settled, very much into a routine here. I’m enjoying the team, my teammates, the city and just keeping things very, very enjoyable. I think the toughest year for me was ’98 only because of the [trades] and the uncertainty of my future. Once I put my name on that contract here, ever since then it’s been pretty routine in a good way.
One of the reasons why maybe I’ve done pretty well is the fact that I keep things extremely simple. I don’t think about hypotheticals, I don’t think about how I’m going to be perceived or classified or anything like that, I just go out and play ball everyday as hard as I can.
ROUZE: Your teammate, Todd Zeile, sees the criticisms of your defensive game as “nitpicking.” What do you think?
Piazza: That’s almost flattering in a way. You have to take it [as flattery] because there’s very few players in the history of the game where they’ll say “He did this, but he didn’t do that. He did that but he didn’t do this.” A lot of players, they just don’t care to do that, so in a way, you have to take it that way, even though at times it gets a little monotonous.
ROUZE: Why do you think the people of New York have come to appreciate the way you play the game?
Piazza: I think it’s important to be your own worst critic. You can never be satisfied with yourself. If you go 2-for-3, you want to go 3-for-4. If you go 3-for-4, you want to go 4-for-5. That’s the attitude you have to have, and I think people sense that in me that I’m my own worst critic, so they respect that and they’re very fair in their criticism. You really find a lot more people are apt to be more understanding of the challenges of catching if you don’t try to duck that criticism. I just go out, do the best I can and try to have fun and enjoy playing the game as well, because I think for me maybe the negative is I get too serious all the time. I understand it’s a serious business and stuff, but it’s still a game and you have to have fun.
ROUZE: Do you think people understand how hard you work?
Piazza: Yeah, I think one of the things I try to convey is I’ve always been one to play my hardest no matter what my off-field situation is. I mean, here I was [in ’98], playing without a contract and risking injury, with everything on the line, throwing it all to the wind and playing as hard as I could. That stuff for me has never been an issue, whether I’m in my rookie year making 100 grand or now in the second year of a seven-year contract, my attitude as never changed. I’ve always gone out and played as hard as I can [and] sacrificed my body. I’ve always been exempt from “Well, it’s his contract year, he’s playing harder,” or whatever. I’ve never felt that, it just doesn’t matter to me.
ROUZE: Do you ever worry that catching will eventually shorten your career?
Piazza: I don’t worry about it because you know what? Every time I step into my car, I know there’s a chance some idiot’s gonna hit me, some drunk guy’s gonna smash into me and kill me. But that doesn’t mean I can’t drive. Every time I get on a plane I know there’s a one-in-a-million chance that the plane could go down, but you still gotta fly. That’s just life. If you’re scared to die you’re scared to live, and if you’re scared to step out on a baseball field because you’re gonna get hurt then you’re doing the wrong thing.