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With Lasorda and Ben Wade, then the club's scouting director, looking on at Dodger Stadium, Piazza says, "I just hammered balls into the blue seats."
Lasorda turned to Wade and asked, "If he was a shortstop who could hit balls into the scats like that, would you sign him?"
"Yes," said Wade.
"If he was a catcher who could hit balls into the seats like that, would you sign him?" Lasorda asked.
"Yes," said Wade without hesitation.
"Then he's a catcher."
"No he's not, he's a first baseman," Wade protested before giving in. "O.K., O.K. Let me see him throw."
"I threw as hard as I could," says Piazza. "I think my arm is still hurting from that day." Wade offered him a $15,000 signing bonus. "If he would have said, 'You have to pay me $15,000,' " says Piazza, "I would have said, 'Well, let's see. I have 10 grand in the bank and...." I said yes before he said 'thousand.' He could have said $15, and it wouldn't have mattered."
Piazza spent his rookie league season in 1989 learning his new position, then he volunteered to sharpen his skills at Campo Las Palmas, the Dodgers' baseball academy for Latin prospects, in the Dominican Republic. No American player had ever requested such an assignment. And no wonder. For nearly three months he dined on the same fare—"For breakfast, two poached eggs and something I think was ham; for lunch, chicken broth and two ham sandwiches; and for dinner, beans and rice, a little bit of beef and sugarcane juice"—struggled with a language barrier and shared his bunk with tarantulas. But when he returned to the U.S., he was trim, knew a little Spanish, was slightly arachnephobic and, best of all, had become a better catcher.
Last season was Piazza's best in the minors—he hit .377 and had seven home runs in 31 games at Double A San Antonio, and .341 and 16 homers in 94 games at Triple A Albuquerque—and it earned the righthanded slugger a call-up to the Dodgers in September. He hit .232 and one home run in 69 at bats against major league pitching and handled himself well enough behind the plate to get a shot at making the L.A. roster this spring.