I was blessed in that the only person I personally knew who perished in the terrorist attacks was a friend of my cousin Thomas with whom I have played golf with a few times. For many, I know the tragedy hit much closer to home. This is not to say I was not affected by the events of that awful day, but as I reflect back, it was ten years ago today that my personal healing process with respect to 9/11 began.
When it was announced that my beloved New York Mets were going to play in the first professional sports event to be held in New York City after the attacks, I knew I wanted to be there. Although truth be told, it was probably Christine (now my wife) who suggested it out loud.
So, we purchased tickets.
For those of you not familiar with the layout of Shea Stadium, Section 1, Row V is the last row of the upper deck and directly behind home plate. From this vantage point we had not only a view of the entire stadium, but by turning around we could view the smoke still rising from Ground Zero.
As the immense crowd of 41,000+ swelled, I realized that we were not there for the Mets, but for ourselves. We were there out of defiance to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. “You will NOT make us live in fear!” was the collective thought of everyone in the ballpark including the ballplayers and coaches.
The visiting (and usually much hated) Braves received a standing ovation as they were announced. The two like-named, but stylistically diametrically opposed managers, Bobby Cox and Bobby Valentine hugged at home plate. The virtual United Nations on the field including: Bruce Chen of Taiwan; Andruw Jones from Curacao; Julio Franco from the Dominican Republic; Tsuyoshi Shinjo from Osaka, Japan; Edgardo Alfonso from Venezuela; Rey Ordonez from La Habana, Cuba; Mike Piazza from Norristown, PA; and John Franco from Brooklyn, was matched in the assembly of New Yorkers including a native of Jamaica (the island, not Queens) who with his two kids sat next to me and a Hassidic (Orthodox Jewish) family who sat directly in front of us.
We all cheered Yankee fan Mayor Rudy Giuliani as he came out to throw the ceremonial first pitch, cried during the National Anthem sung by Diana Ross, and sang New York, New York with Liz Minnelli during the seventh inning stretch. The Mets wore caps representing New York’s Finest and Bravest (the police, fire and other emergency personnel) during the game. (John Franco would wear his FDNY hat the rest of the year.)
After falling behind by one in the top of the eighth, Alfonzo walked on a close pitch from Steve Karsay. What happened next could only be the stuff of Providence or Hollywood.
This was a monster blast of at least 440 feet. From my seat it looked like a line drive, “a frozen rope” as old-timers say. I hugged Christine and the kids; the man from Jamaica hugged his; the Hassid hugged his; we all hugged each other.
With the Mets now ahead 3-2, Armando Benitez (also from the Dominican Republic) gave up a walk to Javier Lopez (Puerto Rico), struck out B.J. Surhoff (from the Bronx), and enticed Keith Lockhart to ground into a game-ending double play. I am certain radio announcer, Bob Murphy said his trademarked, “…and the Mets win the ball game!”
The healing did not occur all at once, and in some sense it will always continue, but for me, it began that night at the ballpark.
God bless America! God bless Baseball!