Piazza: Wilt Chamberlain had a lot of girls.
The crew laughs. The director says, "Cut." He turns to Piazza and says, "Beautiful."
A perfect shoot.
Maybe they can salvage something from it.
THURSDAY, 7:05 P.M.
The Dodgers-Phillies game is a little gem, unless you are a Dodgers fan. It's the finale of a four-game series. The Dodgers lost the first two, won the third. By the weak standards of mid-May, the fourth game is important. Splitting a home series against a team that won just 68 times the previous year, that would be awful, but after the first three games, that is the best Los Angeles can do. The Dodgers are in a dull patch, a good team losing more than winning, already a half-dozen games behind the San Diego Padres in the National League West. Thirty thousand people are on hand to watch Hideo Nomo pitch for the Dodgers and Mark Portugal for the Phils. TVs in the back rooms of the stadium are tuned to the final episode of Seinfeld.
In a sprawling, sleek modern house on Valley Forge Mountain, outside Philadelphia, Piazza's father, Vince, has settled into a chair to watch the game on TV. Vince, on an epic scale, is a car salesman, a real-estate investor and an entrepreneur who is worth about $70 million. Vince Piazza is a first-generation American, Sicilian to the bone, who left high school without a diploma but with outsized drive. His first love was baseball. He grew poor up in Norristown, a working-class town surrounded by leafy suburban Philadelphia, a few years behind his boyhood idol, Lasorda, the kid down the street who was signed by the Dodgers. Lasorda had made it.
Vince spent most of his adult life trying to find a way into baseball, through his son and on his own. On Sept. 1, 1992, his son arrived: He was called up to the Dodgers, his first trip to the majors. Nine days later, Vince was rejected by baseball's owners as an investor in a group trying to buy the San Francisco Giants. At the time, a reporter asked a baseball official if the problem was money or background. "Background," the official said. That answer cost baseball more than $6 million to settle a suit and resulted in a letter of apology from Bud Selig to Vince. Since then, Mike has begun a career bound for Cooperstown, and Vince has come to the realization that baseball is not a place for the prudent businessman.
Mike learned the game by watching the Phillies, sitting beside his father at Veterans Stadium, in the second row, behind the third base dugout, close enough to Mike Schmidt to see steam coming out of his nose on cold spring nights. Schmidt embodied cool to Piazza, and the kid tried to copy him in every way. Schmidt dug into the batter's box slow and sure, as if the plate were his, not the pitcher's, and Piazza does the same thing today.
In the 1980s, when the Dodgers came to town, little Mike was the batboy. By then, Lasorda was the Dodgers' manager and Vince was Lasorda's adviser on various and fruitful investments. In 1989, after Mike had played two years of unspectacular college baseball, Lasorda asked the Dodgers to draft him, which they did, in the 62nd round, as the 1,390th player selected. A courtesy pick, baseball people call it. You could say it worked out, all the way around.