MetsPlus360: Mike Piazza’s #31 Retirement

As most of you know by now, Mike Piazza was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame a few weeks ago, and on the 30th of July, the Mets decided to commemorate this special year by retiring his famous #31.

For me, the day started with a lot of un-knowns, I knew it was going to be a pretty special experience, but I had no idea what to expect, and I didn’t know where I was going to be sitting. The reasoning behind this is complicated, but I had a hunch this was going to be one of the most memorable days of my life, and I was correct.

Upon arriving at Grand Central, we quickly got in a cab (which is a rarity for me, I never take cabs) to the Plaza Athenee Hotel, some five-star hotel that I would probably never stay at (because I’m a hotel loyalist) but can respect.

Niko Goutakolis with piazza lanyard 730

We quickly checked-in, not to the hotel, but to a reception desk staffed by Mets employees. They quickly gave us a lanyard, and a bottle of FIJI Water,which made no sense in my opinion, (the water not the lanyard) and Mike Piazza arrived. I had taken a picture of him at his reception the week earlier, so I just said, “Hi” “congratulations” but didn’t ask him for another photo, as I thought that would be obnoxious. Anyway, with the lanyard in hand, it was time to move on to the next stage of the day, getting to Citi Field.

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I’ve been to Citi Field countless times, and everyone of those times I’ve taken the Subway. I love the subway, always have since I was a child, and frankly it’s the quickest way to get to and from midtown manhattan. Unfortunately, my streak was going to end, as ground transportation was going to be our mode of transport from the hotel to the field.

There were two modes of transportation, the first was a black Chevy Suburban (for Mike, and I mean just Mike) and the second was a coach bus, kind of like a luxury greyhound bus, for his family, friends, colleagues exc.

The characters on the bus were clearly from more exorbitant walks of life, and while I’m typically not nosy, I couldn’t help but overhear some of the conversations. They ranged from what time they want the Private Jet to pick them up to take them to Florida, to if Citi Field (or Mets Stadium, as they called it) is in the Bronx. It’s quite a departure from the questions I ask myself from my apartment, but there are plenty of areas of interest that I know nothing about, so I didn’t really get upset.

Getting there took longer than I expected, but we did arrive at around 4:30 pm. We were promptly taken up to the Empire Suites (219 and 220) and that’s when things started to get crazy. While it was amazing to be honest, I had other priorities that night, because in half an hour, The 7 Line’s ballpark kiosk was going to open for business, and on sale that night was the event shirt, nicknamed “Forever 31”, that The 7 Line Army was going to wear that night. So, I slipped out of the suite, and took an elevator down to the field level.

 

Finally, things were returning to normal, I quickly dashed through the concourse, and then realized I didn’t have to dash, because the ballpark gates were still closed. This was kind of weird for me, because I saw things I’ve never seen, like the employees going through meetings and pre-game checks.

They were also prepping the scoreboard for the ceremonies, they were playing portions of the song “Home Sweet Home” by Motley Crue over and over again, which made no sense to me (until the ceremonies started). When the gates opened, there were was a massive rush to The 7 Line Kiosk, and while there was a very small delay in the opening of the Kiosk, it did eventually open up, and I was very happy to see that they had my size available.

After that I calmly walked back to the suite levels, and was slightly disappointed to see that the tarp was going to be on the field during the ceremonies:

screen shot of mike piazza cholula

Luckily this event was drizzle or shine, so the event went on. Al of sudden, we were told to evacuate the suite, and everyone else seemed to know where we were going but me, I mean, I had an idea, but it sounded preposterous so I didn’t suggest it out loud.

Do you guys know those big freight elevators with the big NY logo on them? Well that’s where we were put for about five minutes, and frankly it was like a sauna, but how could I complain? Something amazing was about to happen… But first a bit of backstory. Before leaving the suite, the suite attendant told me “Wait!”… “The Milkshakes just arrived”. Now, I’m trying to eat more healthy this year, milkshakes are not something I indulge in regularly, but these weren’t regular Mister Softee shakes, these were Shake Shack Milkshakes. The suite attendant, who was very pleasant, told me take one with me for the road, and I did, and I enjoyed it in the sauna err elevator. However, once I finished it, I needed to get rid of it, and I mean I needed to get rid of it, as we were about to go ON THE FIELD. Yes, I was about to go on the field 20 minutes before game time to hear #31 speak.

saunavator.jpg

There were NO garbage disposals in the tunnel, but there was a restroom, but it was occupied. Just when it sounded like the person in front of me was going to open the door, Al Lieter, yes, Al Lieter showed up. He asked me if I was waiting on the restroom, I said “Yes, but you can go first.” After that the Shake Shack cup was the least of my concerns. Here’s why: Have you ever spoken to a Baseball legend up close? It’s almost like the words don’t come out of your mouth and then you question everything you say after. Anyway, Lieter thanked me after he came out and after disposing of the cup, we were ushered on to the field.

It was raining, the dirt was getting everyone’s shoes dirty, but I didn’t care in the slightest.  The actual Mets were right there less than 20 feet away in actual pinstripes! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Then, “Home Sweet Home” started playing again, and before I knew it, Piazza’s number #31 was hanging in left field. Obviously, the speech was cut short due to weather, but it was very nice, and I thought the first pitch was cool.

Then, it was time to go back to the (cue terrible pun) saunavator, and back into the suite for game time. The suite had free Piazza signed hats, Piazza pins and programs that anyone in the suite could take. The food was pretty good and consisted of a taste of Citi Field, Papa Rosso, Shake Shack, Nathan’s, Dan and John’s, Mister Softee, and Mama’s of Corona products were available in the suite, in addition to a complimentary full service bar.

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I pulled out one of the commemorative programs and started keeping score, however, of the 80 people in the suite, maybe 10 or 15 were actually watching the game. Piazza’s father was one of the few diligently paying attention.

The game was pretty terrible. It was slow moving, and once the Mets gave up the lead, they never had a chance to come back.

During the fifth inning, I walked around a little bit, and I bumped into Cliff Floyd, a Mets outfielder that mentored David Wright while he was coming up. He was very nice to me, and we had a small conversation about his job at the MLB Network.

Then during the sixth inning, people started to leave, and by the seventh inning, there was an announcement for “last call” to ride the buses. While I understand that the pre-game festivities were the primary reason the people in the suite came out, I found it rather ridiculous. We declined the bus, and in fact we were the only ones in entire suite to decline a ride. So, we had the entire suite to ourselves for the last three innings.

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As the the game wrapped up, we munched on some of the last remaining deserts, and the game wrapped up. Here is the final score courtesy of Citi Vision:

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So now I have to address the elephant in the story. How the hell did I get these privileges? Well, I can’t really answer that, but it was just being lucky and having good connections. These are things I never get to do, and I’ll be lucky if I ever sit in the Field Level again let alone the Empire level suites. To the people that made this night possible, thank you. To everyone involved in the planning of this event, thank you. To the Piazza family, I would REALLY like to thank you, and congratulate you.

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