"Fans have really supported me my whole career, and I just want to say, 'Thank you.' It's weird for me, because I don't know how to really express it. I come here the last couple of years and people see me as window dressing. Maybe they get used to seeing me. But I'm honored, and I'm touched by it. I'm not trying to kick dirt on myself, but I know I'm advanced in my career. So it's not something I take lightly."
Dating back to his All-Star debut for the Dodgers in 1993, Piazza has played in 11 of 12 of these games for which he was selected. The only exception was 2000. He received the most votes in the NL for that game in Atlanta, but he did not participate because he was still recovering from being hit by a pitch by Roger Clemens of the Yankees a few days earlier.
Piazza was voted in again by fans, who determine the starters. He knows that his numbers are not quite there, arriving in Detroit with a .260 average, nine home runs -- Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein is the only other starting position player in single-digit homers, with two -- and 36 RBIs. They are certainly not the kind of numbers that the future Hall of Famer rang up consistently when he became a fixture in this event. But he is back, and that is the bottom line for this player who in 1996 was the last person to win an All-Star MVP award on the NL side.
"They'll always be a part of me," Piazza said of his voting public. "Five years from now, 20 years from now. It's an amazing stage to play on. ... Personally, I'd love to play better. It just seemed like at times this year, I get to a certain point, and then I regress. Earlier in the season I was hitting the ball hard. ... You're never OK with that. Especially for me, because I've always set such a high standard for myself."
Piazza and Beltran are expecting their team to meet a higher standard as well. Beltran is here for his second All-Star Game, having been added to the NL roster last year with Houston after an awkward situation in which he had just been dealt by Kansas City. Now there was no doubt about him being here, and he talked mostly about his hopes to stimulate a big second half for a club that has had an inconsistent season.
The Mets are last in the NL East, 44-44 and eight games behind the surprising Washington Nationals. Beltran, who will bat second in the NL lineup, is also hitting below expectations, with a .266 average, 10 homers and 34 RBIs.
"We are just looking forward to playing better than .500 ball in the second half," Beltran said, asked often by reporters to explain the break-even showing so far. We need to find a way to beat the Marlins and Braves, all those teams. Our team is capable of winning that division."
Beltran and Piazza would have been joined in this room by Pedro Martinez, but the Mets pitcher declined the event because he knew he was going to pitch this past Sunday, and the ace felt the honor should go to someone else. In a true statistical oddity, Beltran has hit nine of his 10 homers this year with Martinez on the mound. Is that another reason to miss his teammate in this game?
"I have no explanation for that," Beltran said. "I wish I had an answer for you. All I know is, it's very important to be here, because every time you are voted by fans to be a representative, it's a dream come true."
Sitting across the room was a man who certainly knows what that feels like. "I'm enjoying the moment," Piazza said. "I'm conditioned to be here. What can I say? I've been spoiled."