MIAMI BEACH, FLA. - Mike Piazza knows that some people think it’s funny for a baseball player to take up ballet, but the former catcher hopes to turn whoever is jeering him now into dance fans when he takes the stage with Miami City Ballet next month.

“You gotta sometimes have the courage to go out there and do something like this, and I think the overall effect will be positive,” Piazza said Tuesday after his costume fitting for the role of a gangster in “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.”

Piazza will walk on stage and say a few lines in the company’s May 3 production of the ballet that George Balanchine choreographed as part of the 1930s musical “On Your Toes.” “If I have to take a few good-natured insults, you know, I’ve taken a lot of abuse before so, no question, I’ve got big shoulders,” he said. “The bottom line is to draw attention to the show, to the arts, the art of ballet and dancing in general. It’s something I’m very excited about.”

Piazza, who had 427 career home runs and made 12 All-Star Game appearances, didn’t know anything about Balanchine when he first stepped into the rehearsal studio, though he did impress the dancers with the exaggerated accent and smoking habit that he gave his character. “He knows a lot about acting, which makes it a lot easier,” said principal soloist Kleber Rebello, who will play the part of a jealous Russian dancer who hires Piazza’s gangster to kill his rival. “He’ll be bringing different people, maybe people who haven’t watched ballet yet. It’s definitely a good opportunity,” Rebello said.

Piazza, whose daughter is a student at Miami City Ballet School, said he’s eager to help boost the dancers’ image among sports fans.

associated press


Death-defying plunge in Slovenia

Talk about your cliffhanger. St. Paul chef Lenny Russo and a driver were racing up the hairpin turns of a mountain in Slovenia recently in a souped-up Yugo when they hit a patch of gravel and spun out of control. The chef/owner of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market in St. Paul has been cooking his way through Slovenia as part of the American Chef Corps, through a program at the U.S. Embassy. The car teetered on the edge of a cliff and, just when Russo thought they were safe, it plummeted to the ravine below, rolling hood-over-wheels four times before landing in snow. The race gear — safety helmet and harness — saved his life, says Russo. For more on his diplomatic cooking adventures in Slovenia, go to