02/25/09 11:23 AM EST
Piazza coaching for Italy in Classic
Former All-Star catcher doing his part to help program grow
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com
The 41-year-old former catcher is the hitting coach for the Italian team in the Classic. On Wednesday morning, he was wearing a blue uniform with an "I" on his cap on a back field at Roger Dean Stadium, preparing for a "B" game against the Marlins.
"I'm excited to get on the field a little bit, and the fact they [Italian players] are so eager to learn, and there aren't a lot of egos over there," Piazza said. "It's a good thing. I'm really pumped."
Hitting coach is technically his title. But he also spends a lot of time instructing the catchers.
Piazza was one of the top catchers of his generation. He broke in with the Dodgers in 1992, and he spent eight seasons with the Mets. During a whirlwind 1998 season, Piazza was on three different clubs, getting traded from the Dodgers to the Marlins, who dealt him to the Mets.
Piazza was involved two blockbuster trades in the span of eight days. On May 14, 1998, the Dodgers sent him to Florida, along with Todd Zeile, for Bobby Bonilla, Charles Johnson, Gary Sheffield, Jim Eisenreich and Manuel Barrios.
Piazza's tenure with the Marlins was five games and 18 at-bats.
Florida shipped Piazza to the Mets on May 22, 1998, for Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall and Geoff Goetz.
Even though he didn't last long playing for the Marlins, Piazza has since grown roots in South Florida, living in Miami since 2001.
Piazza retired as a player after spending the 2007 season with Oakland. These days, when he is standing around the batting cage watching the Italian players hit, he has no desire to get back up to the plate.
"For me, I knew I got to the end of my career," he said. "I just knew it was time to be home and enjoy the moments with my kid, which is what a lot of guys missed out on because they were working and playing."
Piazza played for Italy's Classic team in 2006, and coaching is keeping him touch with the game. He is working on doing a little broadcasting when the season starts.
"Nothing is really finalized," he said.
Piazza takes part in clinics in Italy, and he's picking up more of the Italian language.
"I'm learning a lot more," Piazza said. "I learned Spanish first. It's similar. It's an interesting language.
"Our family is obviously very proud to be of Italian descent. I grew up in the United States, and I'm an American. I never tried to assume a different identity. But it's fun. It's fun for me. The fact that they are really eager and trying to build their program to a level of respect internationally -- its fun to watch that."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.