Sometimes a glamorous reputation obscures other facets of a ballplayer.
Such is the case with Mike Piazza.
The all-time home-run leader for catchers has played and starred in New York and Los Angeles, the two biggest and most star-filled markets in the world. Endorsements and commercials have been his for the asking. His combination of good looks, intelligence and athleticism has always made him popular with gossip columnists.
Yet the community-minded side of Piazza is seldom adequately considered, which is OK with him.
"I don't really do it to get notoriety," Piazza said. "It's more personal. It's a matter of doing certain things that make an impact. Small things mean a lot. A lot of small things add up to big things. You can't save the world in one day. Pick something important that you have a passion for."
From the start of his big-league career, Piazza participated in the Annual Pepsi All-Star Softball Game in San Diego to raise money for the International Juvenile Diabetes Association. From 1998 to 2001, Piazza donated more than $100,000 to the Mets' Takin' it to the Fields program. The funds were distributed in the form of grants to youth baseball leagues to repair and improve their fields.
Later, in the fall of 2002, Piazza toured Europe for Major League Baseball International, hosting clinics for children and meeting Pope John Paul II.
"It's important to give kids an opportunity to do stuff after school and in social environments, where it's a good environment to interact and not get into trouble," Piazza said. "Those things are important. School-related activities are great. I try to pick and choose activities here and there. It's not hard to find things."
Though Piazza doesn't point to himself as a role model, his career could be a guidepost to not giving up and making something out of little in sports. Remember, he was a 62nd-round draft pick of the Dodgers in 1988, taken as a favor to Tommy Lasorda, who was then in the middle of his 20-year run as LA manager.
"Sports can help you open other doors," Piazza said. "You meet people, get into school, form relationships and bonds that can carry over into life and business. Bottom line, you want to put as much positive energy into people's lives and surround them with positive people [so they know] that they can achieve things. They can have a ripple effect."
In Piazza's life, that ripple effect spread out to a host of run-producing seasons like few others in Major League history for catchers, starting out with his NL Rookie of the Year campaign in 1993. He had a pair of 40-homer, 124-RBI seasons, one each in Los Angeles and New York. His offensive numbers rank among the best all-time for catchers.
All along, Piazza never forgot his 62nd-round status or his ability to help others.
"You have to get across: It's good to be a good guy," he said. "That's the thing kids need to understand. Get back to basic manners and respect, respect for your parents and family, and it kind of boils over to the community. It starts on a smaller scale and turns into bigger and better things. I try to emphasize the importance of keeping families together."
George Castle is a writer for Redline Editorial, Inc.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.