Baseball: Ex-teammates talk about Piazza before Italy-Japan WBC game

Tsuyoshi Shinjo and Kazuo Matsui, former Japanese teammates of Mike Piazza, have reflected on memories with the Hall of Fame catcher before his Team Italy faces Japan in Thursday's World Baseball Classic quarterfinal game.

As Italy's manager, Piazza brought his men to Tokyo after emerging from a tough Pool A in Taichung, Taiwan, where all five teams finished with 2-2 records. Cuba and Italy advanced thanks to a tiebreaker.

Shinjo and Matsui were Piazza's New York Mets teammates at different times. They are now the managers of the Nippon Ham Fighters and Seibu Lions, respectively.

Piazza is well known in Japan as Hideo Nomo's batterymate when they were with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"He was a great player," Shinjo said. "He was picked in a lower round of an MLB draft, so he was a gutsy man. I'm sure he knows a lot about baseball since he is a former catcher."

Shinjo spent the 2001 and 2003 seasons with the Mets before returning to Japan to join the Fighters in 2004.

"I remember I went out to eat steak with him, and I took care of the bill. He let me be his friend...I mean, I let him be my friend," the former outfielder said with a smile.

Matsui made his major league debut with the Mets in 2004 and was traded to the Colorado Rockies in June 2006.

"The true superstar has become a manager, and it's good to see him on TV again," the former shortstop said of Piazza. "I wish I could see him."

© Kyodo News