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Summer Splash

The Boy of Summer

When the weather is nice, Mike Piazza has little time to relax, but when he does, it's a day at the beach.

May 22, 1997|KEVIN BAXTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

You'd think a guy making millions of dollars a year would be able to buy anything he wants. But for Mike Piazza, the opposite has proven true. When the four-time National League all-star signed a two-year, $15-million contract with the Dodgers last January, leisure time suddenly became a luxury he couldn't afford.

"You have to remember what your job is. And always remember that it comes first," says Piazza, one of Southern California's most eligible--and most seasonally reticent--bachelors. "[Summer] is pretty much work time for us. There's not too much free time."

So while Piazza, 28, is no stranger to the night life on either coast, "he shuts it down pretty good during the season," says a veteran member of the Dodgers' traveling party. "I rarely see him out."

If Piazza's focus changes during the summer, though, his goals do not; the idea has always been to have fun. On the field, he's accomplished that by averaging 32 home runs and 100 runs batted in since coming to Los Angeles to stay four summers ago. Off the field, he's discovered a number of enjoyable ways to pass the time without taxing his body.

For example, the beach is a ball.

"For me, living at the beach, it's nice. I spend a lot of time on the sand," says Piazza, who has a townhouse in Manhattan Beach. "I grew up around the beach. I also have a place in Florida which is kind of close to the beach. It's what I love. . . . "

After a rare Dodger Stadium day game, he may point his black European luxury sedan or his green El Dorado toward Spago, the Ivy, the new Sky Bar or any number of more anonymous haunts in the South Bay. But both cars will be in the garage and Piazza will be in bed by 12:30 a.m. if there's a game the next day.

A more routine day would include a home-cooked breakfast at 10:30 and lunch at 2:30 with video games, a movie or music--his preference is heavy metal--on his home entertainment system sandwiched in between. And while Piazza doesn't read much besides the morning paper--"I should be doing more," he confesses--he is about to go online after purchasing a personal computer.

If that sounds more like the summer schedule of an old codger than a young stud, Piazza isn't apologizing.

"On the road it's the same thing," he says. "When you get in trouble is when you start worming around; you know, going around at all hours of the night. I'm always sure that I stay at home and get my rest. That's the most important thing for me."

Piazza ranks Chicago, Houston, San Francisco and San Diego among his favorite road cities but, he quickly adds, "every city we go to has its unique flair. It's a great league."

Home, however, is where the heart is--which is the kind of sentiment you'd expect from a catcher. And though Piazza was born in Norristown, Pa., lists his hometown as Valley Forge, Pa., and maintains a place in Florida, he definitely considers Southern California his real home.

"It's great in L.A.," he says. "There's a lot to do. My family likes to come out and visit and we go different places. There's a lot of great areas in Los Angeles to live. But I like Manhattan Beach because I love the beach and it's a great area and there are great people that live there.

"It's just a great opportunity for me to play here."

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