Camp Report: Piazza on the scene

Mike Piazza became the most recent major star to make his way to Port St. Lucie on Thursday, sporting a faded red T-shirt, jeans and a relaxed attitude as he wandered into the Mets clubhouse.

At age 36, Piazza is no longer the cornerstone of the Mets, his perch having been supplanted by the arrival of 27-year-old switch-hitter Carlos Beltran this winter.

It's a move Piazza has embraced, with his baseball future uncertain (2005 marks the final year of his seven-year commitment to the Mets) but his personal future secure – he married former Playboy Playmate Alicia Rickter last month in Florida.

"I think it's a good opportunity for me to focus and the spotlight is off me a little bit and on these guys," Piazza told reporters. "That's good. And they deserve it.

"Carlos Beltran is an outstanding player and I hope and wish and pray that he has all the success and 10 times more than I've had here. I hope he carries us right to the World Series. I'll be right there."

Piazza is in line to serve as the Mets' starting catcher this season, and GM Omar Minaya has privately predicted a big year from his former All-Star backstop. Last season, Piazza batted .266 with 20 home runs and 54 RBI in 129 games, one year after being limited to just 68 games due to injury.

With a new core to fit around Piazza, the Mets no longer need him to be an offensive centerpiece. Still, Piazza has the ability to be an above-average offensive catcher.

The Mets would be positively thrilled if he can approach the output of his 2002 numbers, when he hit .280 with 33 home runs and 98 RBI in 135 games, his last full season in the majors.

Campos joins the squad: The Mets will give a spring look to 32-year-old right-hander Francisco Campos, who was loaned to New York by Triple-A Campeche of the Mexican League.

Campos, who was 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA in two starts during the Caribbean World Series and also made five starts for Triple-A Charlotte in the White Sox organization last year, must make the major league roster out of spring training or he will be returned to Campeche.

In 2003, Campos led the Mexican League in wins (10), ERA (2.19) and strikeouts (68).


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