Baseball slugger Mike Piazza on praying for home runs, forgiving opponents, and passing judgment on Barry Bonds.
BY: Interview by Michael Kress
After starting his career as the 1,390th player chosen in baseball's 1988 amateur draft, Mike Piazza has gone on to defy expectations and become one of the top major-league catchers of all time. Piazza won the 1993 Rookie of the Year Award, has been chosen for a dozen All-Star games, and holds the record for most home runs by a catcher. Piazza is also a devoted Catholic and appears in the documentary "Champions of Faith
," which profiles Christian baseball players. Currently playing for the Oakland A's, Piazza spoke with Beliefnet about forgiving his opponents, praying (or not) for home-runs, and passing judgment on baseball's steroids scandal.
What role does faith play in your career--and your life?
I truly believe my whole professional career has been a blessing from God. And it's been a great gift. I know I worked hard, and you have to apply yourself, but I still feel that you have to have a lot of blessings from above. And anybody who plays this game, you have to be very spiritual, because it's very frustrating at times.
I grew upRoman Catholic
. And my mom was very instrumental in guiding me and forming a spiritual foundation for myself. And so it's just something I've always enjoyed practicing. It's something I've always enjoyed being a part of, and something I'm proud of. I'm very proud of my faith.
Why do you say that you have to be spiritual to play the game?
|Baseball Is a Spiritual Sport|
Because it's a game based on failure. It is a slice of life, so to speak, that life is adversity, and how you deal with adversity. And baseball, if you fail seven out of 10 times, you're a success. It's probably not the same numbers in life. But I still feel that in life it's not so much [about] the good times. It's what you find out about yourself during the bad times. Because when the times are going well, or things are going well, everyone's on their best behavior. And it's easy to be good. But when you go through adversity, when a couple goes through frustrations, or they go through a bankruptcy, or they have bills--all these things, you see a person's true colors. And you see a person's true grace under fire, so to speak.
As a player, you have to believe. I have to believe every day that when I get in that batter's box, good things are going to happen. I can't go up there thinking, "Oh, I'm going to strike out. Or, I'm going to hit into a double play." Or even if I'm 0 for 20, I believe that 21st time I'm going to get that hit. And that's the way I think we have to be in life, to realize that we are going to go through a tremendous amount of test and adversity and frustration.
We want to try to get closer to God. We want to try to be like Jesus. We always want to try to get on that horse and do the right thing, and be positive. And be positive not just for yourself but for other people.
I was a last round draft pick. Nobody wanted me. I could count the amount of scouts that told me to go school, to forget baseball. Coaches [said], "You know what, you're never going to make it." And I appreciated their honesty, because I think when someone tells you something you don't want to hear, you may not like it at the time, but you have to appreciate their honesty and use that as fuel for motivation. And that's what I did.
As a person of faith, what is your perspective on the steroid scandal in baseball?
|Talking About the Steroid Scandal|
There is a lot of swirling and a lot of innuendo, a lot of rumor, a lot of hearsay. And, I think, to get back to balance on a larger issue, Major League Baseball has sort of admitted and sort of acknowledged that there could have been abuse by some players in the past.
It's kind of like going back and reinvestigating the Kennedy assassination. It's impossible to really put a finger on where it derailed and where it went wrong. And I think that everybody, in a sense, was realizing that someone--the people and the higher ups--were looking the other way. And some of the players didn't really acknowledge that it was so much of a bad stigma. And so, I think that just the fact of not dealing with it at the time was probably the biggest issue that I see at fault. But I think now people--and especially in Major League Baseball--they've acknowledged it and we have very strict testing now. They were just testing the other day.
Is it a perfect system? No. But I do believe that they did acknowledge that it was an issue, and that we had to set a positive example for kids to realize that this is not the right way to try to become a better athlete.
And I think baseball's always been under a higher standard than football or other sports, as well. You're never going to make everybody happy on the issue. I think some people want to go back and dig up old bones, and try to form what they feel like is the truth. There's so much subjective information and innuendo and hearsay that I just think that the better thing to do [is] to realize that.
Is it conceivable there was some abuse by players? Sure. But, at the end of the day, now they've made a statement to try to right the wrong, and move on. And I think that the new system is working very well.
And what do you think about the debate over Barry Bond breaking the home run record, whether to list it in the records with an asterisk?
|Barry Bonds Is the Greatest Player|
I think Barry Bonds is the greatest player I've ever seen. And probably even without the controversy around him, [one of] the top three players in the history of the game. He's got seven MVPs. He had the highest, I think, on-base percentage last year in the National League.
And so, it's tough. People get very wrapped up into the record and what it would stand for and whatnot. There's just so much hype about it, and so much controversy and debate about it. I think it's kind of like with President Bush. He's very controversial now. But the true test, or the judge, of his legacy will be 15, 20 years down the line. It's almost impossible now to really form a true evaluation of the situation, because it's so incendiary. Other things have to settle down until we can really put history in perspective. It's very muddied now. Things have to settle, and then we'll be able to see clear.
Do you find it hard to practice your faith during the season, especially on the road?
It's easy for me not to go to Mass on the road. But I've made a fundamental decision. I'm going to be dedicated. I'm going to make the time. I'm going to get up, if that means getting up at 7:00 on a Sunday morning before a day game and do it, I'm going to do it. And we're fortunate now. The Archdiocese of Oakland has sanctioned Mass at the stadium. So it makes it convenient for us.
There's ongoing debate on our site about whether it's appropriate to pray for little things in life, like finding a parking space. Do you pray for victory in games, or for home runs?
|Why He Doesn't Pray for Victory|
No, I really don't. I learned a lesson. I read a great book on General George S. Patton Jr., which I thought was really interesting. Here was a vile, blood-and-guts type general who would stop at nothing to get victory on the battlefield. But he was very religious and very devout and prayed every day, and then would swear like nobody's business. And I think that's the ultimate dichotomy, the ultimate paradox. The reason why I bring this up is, someone asked him one time, "Do you pray for victory?" And he says, "No, I don't pray for victory. I pray for the Lord to help me do my best."