- Last Updated: 12:55 PM, November 19, 2012
- Posted: 12:52 AM, November 18, 2012
Passion ignites success, and Mike Piazza is realizing a different kind of baseball dream these days.
He is rediscovering ancestral roots in Italy and helping to make baseball relevant there. Piazza is the hitting coach for the Italian National Team that won the European Championship this year. He will serve as hitting coach for Team Italy in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Piazza is becoming quite fluent in Italian, as he learns more about himself as a coach and a person.
“This has become a passion for me,’’ Piazza told The Post from his home in Miami Beach. “I just got back from Italy, and I am doing a lot of research on my family roots from Sicily. During your baseball career you really can’t focus on things like that because you are concentrating on playing. I’m trying to help grow the game in Italy.
“This is a great escape for me and at the same time a way to stay connected to the game I love,’’ he said. As for speaking Italian, Piazza noted, “I enjoy the challenge of it, and I’ve been told I have a pretty good accent.’’
Piazza, 44, is married to Alicia Rickter, and they have two daughters, Nicoletta Veronica, 5, and Paulina Sophia, 3. The family will soon be traveling to Sicily for a month.
Piazza’s coaching style has proven to be a big hit, which is not surprising considering his success in the majors.
“When I was coming up with the Dodgers I learned from Reggie Smith, and he was a direct disciple of Ted Williams,’’ said Piazza, who hit 427 home runs and batted .308 over his 16-year career as a catcher, eight of which were with the Mets.
“I really benefitted a lot from good coaching, so I feel I can impart my knowledge, and that is my way of giving back to the game. And you can tell, obviously with our success and winning two European Championships since I’ve been there, it works,’’ Piazza said. “The players really listen, and it’s fun for me. I get a lot of joy from doing that. I’m not a huge ‘change a guy’ type of coach, I keep it simple. I’m not very autocratic. I don’t try to pound my system into guys. To me, hitting is personal.’’
This is a big year for Piazza, as the 12-time All-Star is eligible for the Hall of Fame for the first time. Only five Hall of Famers have hit more home runs while hitting for a higher average than Piazza: Stan Musial, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Jimmie Foxx and Babe Ruth.
That is quite a list.
“It’s always exciting to think about it,’’ Piazza said of Cooperstown. “But it’s like anything, you just hope and see what happens, that’s all you can do. Through the years I’ve been fortunate to meet with Golden Age players like Ted Williams, and it’s great. I was fortunate to be in that era of between old school and new school, and I met so many great players coming up with the Dodgers like Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Roy Campanella. It was like baseball heaven for a minor leaguer, and that was one of the main things that helped me. It inspired me and helped me develop.’’Follow @NYPostsports