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Piazza shows metal maniac colors
01/09/2008 10:37 AM ET
Mike Piazza's vicious yet poetic right-handed swing at a baseball has led to the most home runs by a catcher in Major League history and a sure spot in the Hall of Fame.

That swing is the gloriously effective result of two skills -- impeccable hand-eye coordination and flat-out strength -- and it's a combination of abilities that has helped Piazza not only in baseball but in his life off the field, too.

Piazza, last seen on a Major League ballfield as the polished designated hitter for the 2007 Oakland A's, has been an aspiring rock n' roll drummer for more than 20 years.

"I tried the guitar when I was 14 or 15 and didn't really have much luck with that," Piazza says with a smile before explaining that dexterity with his fingers -- aside from putting them down to call pitches, of course -- has never been his strong suit.

"For some reason, I was very bad at putting down chords. But when I play drums, I guess my aggressive side comes out."

Piazza began bashing the tar out of drums in his senior year of high school in Norristown, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia. It was the late 1980s, and Piazza was a huge fan of the hard-rock, "hair-band" sound that had dominated the radio -- groups such as AC/DC and Van Halen.

That's why he was thrilled when he met, befriended, and got lessons from Gregg Bissonette, a session pro who was in Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth's successful solo band and has played with luminaries such as James Taylor, Ringo Starr, Brian Wilson, Joe Satriani, Andy Summers of The Police and Santana.

"I always loved live music and always loved rock," Piazza says. "And when I started getting into music, I always listened to the drum patterns and the fills, and I wondered if certain sounds were hi-hat or if they were ride cymbals, and I started picking that stuff up.

"It's fun for me. I'll always have a drum set in my house to just put on some music and have friends over."

Piazza has been living in San Francisco since he signed with the A's in the winter of 2006, and he says it isn't the right place to house a drum kit, but he speaks lovingly of the drum collection he keeps in his permanent home.

Piazza did a promotion with Pearl drums years back and was "set up" with a set of Masters Custom seven-ply shells. He also has a set of vintage Vistalites, which he proudly says are the same drums used by late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham on the "Song Remains the Same" concert album and tour. "Those things sound cool," Piazza says. "Loud as heck."

He adds that he always uses bigger sticks because, "I have big, gangly hands," and that "you can never have enough pedals or cymbals." But Piazza also admits that he doesn't practice with a drum pad while he's on the road, that he pretty much leaves the music at home during the season.

"I don't practice my rudiments as much as I should," he says. "I'm deficient in rudiments. I can play songs, but I do need to continue to work on my ABCs."

Piazza got a chance to do that live on stage recently, when he jammed to a few Metallica songs with the hugely popular Southern California hair-band cover act, Metal Skool, in San Diego.

"I like all hard rock, pretty much, everything from AC/DC to Zebra," he says. "A lot of hard rock, some classic rock, some metal, some speed metal, some punk. But when I play, I try to play more musical songs, not just speed rock."

And as far as drummers go, Piazza mentions everyone's favorite Neil Peart, from the Canadian power trio Rush, plus Alex Van Halen, jazz great Buddy Rich, former Ozzy Osbourne, Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake drummer Tommy Aldridge and multi-genre jazz-and-rock pro Horacio Hernandez.

Piazza says he doesn't have any grand visions of joining a rock band when he's done with his great baseball career, that he'll just kick back at home with his wife, Alicia, their young daughter, Nicoletta, and his drum sets.

As far as Alicia is concerned, well, she's probably happy he's not planning on embarking on any world rock tours either.

"I think my playing drums is just a little bit higher in her mind than playing video games," Piazza says with a laugh.

"She just thinks it's funny."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.