Italy's newest espresso machine started with a meeting 20 years ago

March 16th, 2023

TOKYO -- The two first met in 2003. After being released in the offseason by the Giants, Tsuyoshi Shinjo re-joined the Mets -- where Mike Piazza held court as the team's star and leader.

"In 2001, when Shinjo first came to the Majors, Mike is the guy who took care of the Shinjo," K.K. said. "Mike and the Shinjo had a special connection."

Shinjo then helped Katsunori Kojima -- better known as K.K. -- to get a job with the team as a translator.

After the season ended though, K.K. and Piazza didn't speak again until Wednesday night -- some 20 years later, when Piazza spoke before the Japanese media as the Team Italy manager. But this time, for the first 20 minutes, K.K. simply spoke into a small earpiece that Piazza wore. That's because K.K was in charge of the translation -- bridging the gap between Japanese and English -- for everyone in the room.

"That was so funny because I was in the simultaneous interpretation production booth," K.K. said. "I had tried to catch up with him during the BP but there was always people around so I didn't have an opportunity. So, I listened to what Mike said for about 20 minutes while I interpreted his words into Japanese or into English whenever the Japanese media asked something. I was talking through the microphone to Mike, but it wasn't my conversation."

After the press conference was over, K.K. was able to meet Piazza in the bullpen and present him with a gift: A brand new espresso machine, with plenty of pods for the team to stay caffeinated all game long.

"I think people enjoy it because it came organically. We didn't really think about it," Piazza said. "This is what we do. We are Italians, and living in Italy, it's just part of the culture. That's one of the things we decided when we are coming: 'Who has got the espresso machine?'"

While the one in the dugout is the same one from Taiwan -- one wouldn't risk upsetting the careful balance of luck by swapping it out -- there's now another one for the skipper to bring home.

"The manager has to get one machine, I know that, so I'm going to be taking that home," Piazza joked. "We are honored."

K.K. had seen how much the ballclub had enjoyed getting their dugout espresso in Taiwan and wanted to help them while in the Tokyo Dome. But it doesn't change who the translator will be rooting for:

"I imagined, 'Oh, they might need another one in Tokyo,'" K.K. said. "The team is playing against Japan, though. I want them to play well, but at the same time, I want Japan to beat them, too."

Should Italy upset the heavily favored Japan, there's a plan in place for when they reach the semi-finals: 

"Maybe if we get to Miami, we'll have a real barista in the dugout with a copper and steel machine knocking down shots in ceramic cups, not in the paper cups," Piazza said.

"I have some Italian friends who told me," Piazza added, swapping into an Italian accent, 'You do not drink cafe from a paper cup.' They are very disappointed in us about that."