New team, same goals for Piazza
Future Hall of Fame catcher still focused on winning a title
SAN DIEGO -- Mike Piazza will have to change his number, but he won't have to change his ultimate goal -- playing for a World Series champion.
"Winning a World Series is pretty much the one thing that I am chasing now as my career continues to evolve," said Piazza as he met the San Diego media Monday afternoon at a press conference at the San Diego Hall of Champions. "I've been fortunate to go to the World Series a couple of times, and it would certainly be great to win one."
The 37-year-old Piazza, who last week signed a one-year contract for $2 million with a mutual option for 2007 at $8 million, appeared with his wife, Alicia, and other family, along with his long-time agent Danny Lozano.
Piazza, the Major League's all-time home run hitting catcher, was presented his new Padres jersey -- No. 33 -- by executive vice president/GM Kevin Towers and manager Bruce Bochy.
"[Piazza's traditional No. 31] was worn by a Hall of Famer: Mr. [Dave] Winfield," said Piazza. "I've always had threes in numbers, so this is something new to me, but it's fine. I'm not crazy or superstitious about numbers; I just want to help contribute to a great team and ultimately a great season."
"It's a very exciting day for all of us here in San Diego," said Towers. "Bruce [Bochy] and I have had first-hand an opportunity to watch what this guy can do on the playing field not only when he was with the Dodgers, but also when he was with New York. He broke our hearts many a time with walk-off home runs and clutch base hits. He's arguably one of the greatest offensive catchers of our time, a tremendous competitor who plays the game the way it's supposed to be played.
"It's a family here, and hopefully we can get started the next couple of weeks, and hopefully help put a ring on all of our fingers."
"I've had the chance to see Mike for quite a few years," added Bochy, "going back to the Minor Leagues. That's why I'm very excited for him. I've always admired how Mike has played the game. He's always played it hard, and he's been a leader out there.
"I remember the first time I got to know Mike a little bit in 1999 at the All-Star Game in Boston [where Bochy was managing the NL]," Bochy said. "I'm trying to get the lineup straight and figure out how much guys want to play, and he said, 'Hey Bruce, whatever you need, you want me to go nine, I'll go nine.' That's just the way he is. And we're very excited having him lead our staff."
For Piazza, it came down to choosing between the Padres and the "hometown" Philadelphia Phillies.
While he acknowledges that Towers came with discussions early on, in the free agent period it was Rick Sutcliffe, a one-time Padres pitcher and announcer, who helped point him toward the Padres.
"I was fortunate to work with Rick at ESPN during the playoffs," said Piazza. "And he kept on saying, 'You gotta think about San Diego, you have to think about San Diego.' At that time, being on the East Coast for years, you become ingrained in your routine, so I never thought I would get back to the West Coast and play baseball.
The weather also played a role in his decision, as well as the fact that his wife is from Southern California.
"You look at the weather in the Northeast, where it's cool and rainy during the spring and hot and humid in the summer," said Piazza. "I'm no longer a spring chicken, and the weather back East can take a toll on an older body.
Piazza was later asked about what he would bring to the Padres pitching staff.
"I've been catching for 14 years, and [have played in] 11 or 12 All-Star Games," said Piazza. "I've caught some Hall of Fame-bound pitchers, caught some amazing talented pitchers, and I've caught no-hitters. I've always been a student of pitching and catching. Maybe what I lack in pure defense I can bring to other areas as far as blocking the plate, sacrificing my body for the team."
Piazza said that he and Bochy will monitor the playing situation with Doug Mirabelli, whom he refers to as a "co-catcher" as opposed to a backup catcher. Piazza also addressed the possibility of playing first base when he might not be catching.
Piazza was asked what he would miss most about New York. "New York is a great city. I've been there for eight years and made a lot of great friends," Piazza said. "All the fans ... that's what I'll miss. I was in Manhattan about a week ago, and everyone told me, 'Good luck in San Diego, best of luck to you out there, go Padres.'
"I really have connected with the people there. And I hope to do the same in San Diego."
Sandy Burgin is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.