The day started out nice. In fact it was a great day to walk my new puppy.
As many dog owners know, once a puppy gets its shots you need to walk it until it does its business outside. Some days it took five minutes and sometimes it took considerably longer.
On September 11, 2011, it took my new dog, Isabella, 45 minutes to… well, you know, and by the time I got back to my apartment in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the World Trade Center was already on fire.
At that time, I was not an intrepid reporter, rather a stock broker struggling through the Internet bubble bursting, trying to eek out a living on Wall Street the best I could. Working in Midtown, my route to work took me past the Trade Center everyday as I got off the bus downtown and then took a subway up to 42nd Street where my office was located.
Of course, back then I was a Met fan, a bigger one than I am now, since working in the industry peals back the shiny layers of fandom. And because I am who I am, I was not only a Met fan, but the lightning rod guy who all the Yankee fans in my office chose to pick on after the World Series.
Of course I didn’t get into the office that day. Rather, after I took Izzy home and saw fire on TV, I wisely chose to keep away, watching the events unfold on the television, while seeing the smoke from the Twin Towers rise above the sky overhead outside.
Baseball was the last thing on my mind, and it’s safe to say, the last thing on anyone’s mind. During that day and the ensuring weeks afterward, the events of the terrorist attacks were front and center. Unless children’s television is your forte, all you had was news to watch on the tube. The stock market was closed for the week, and of course baseball was canceled.
And it was a scary time too. The next day, bomb scares in the city were as prevalent as any rumor and any crazy was taken seriously. Grand Central Station was evacuated, and forget about even getting to lower Manhattan as the ruins of the Trade Center still smoldered in the distance.
It was so bad that it made you wonder if life would ever get back to some sort of normalcy.
Over in Queens, the Mets were busy with the large Shea Stadium Parking lot becoming the staging area for many of the rescue operations.
The Mets were on the road in Pittsburgh during the attacks and stayed there as events unfolded in those first few days.
After the first week, life found a way to regain some sense of normalcy. The stock market opened on September 17th and my office tripled. The main operations building for my firm was located at One Liberty Plaza and that was obviously closed.
And television started programming again. David Letterman made his famous late night broadcast that day and of course baseball started back up.
The Mets stayed in Pittsburgh and switched was supposed to be a home series with the Pirates on September 17th, the first games played since the attacks. The Amazins were hot making a late season surge after floundering for most of the year. The September run was interrupted when the terrorists attacked and no one knew how that would affect the club.
That night showed many why America was so great. The Pirate fans were actually supporting the Mets. “I Love New York” pins were handed out to all the fans and the Mets decided to wear the baseball caps of the police, fire department, Port Authority and other jurisdictions of heroes that lost members the week before.
In the relative scheme of things, the game didn’t matter, but the Mets won that game 4-1 with John Franco getting the win and the New Yorkers won again, 7-5, the next night backed by a Mike Piazza home run in the eighth. They swept the Buccos the following night, 9-2 (Go Dickey Gonzalez!), on the 19th setting the stage for the return home that Friday, Sept. 21.
No one knew what this game would mean. Would it just be another regular season game or will the Mets rise higher to the occasion. To cap things off, the club was playing the Atlanta Braves that night, their hated rivals who were en route to another Division title.
Like most of you, I watched the game on TV. That night, there was a collective telethon held on every other station for the victims of the attacks. So this really was the only game to watch.
And it was proper that it was a baseball game. America’s Game. New York’s Game. If football is considered an allegory to war, then baseball is an allegory to life. And nothing is more normal than a baseball game being played in the city.
The Mets, to their credit, did it right. Bagpipers came in and played patriotic music. Mark Anthony presented the National Anthem and Diana Ross crooned God Bless America and Liza Minnelli sang New York, New York. Not a dry eye in the house.
Something else occurred that night which has never prefaced a baseball game before or since. The teams lined the bases during the pregame tributes, much like an Opening Day or Postseason ceremony. But as the National Anthem ended, and the teams broke ranks, instead of returning to their dugouts, both teams gathered around second base, and it wasn’t to initiate a brawl. They hugged, they shook hands, and exchanged pleasantries, wishing each other’s families well during that fearful time.
And to top things off, even noted Yankee fan and then Mayor of New York Rudy Guiliani received a standing ovation, something he noted was different from any of his other visits to Shea.
Yet as official scorer Joe Donnelly yelled out the time for the first pitch, everything seemed to return to normal. And when Piazza hit that eighth inning homer off Steve Karsay, it lifted the spirits of the city taking its first step back from the terrible tragedy.
And the players knew it was important. Chipper Jones remembered the day recently at Citi Field.
“I didn’t mind [losing] a bit,” said Jones to reporters. “I think each and every one of us will tell you if there’s been one game in our entire careers that we didn’t mind losing, it was that one. You just felt like divine intervention was in New York’s corner that day. We didn’t mind it a bit. We thought it was our duty to go out and take a city and a country’s mind off something terrible that had happened. If it was up to us to go entertain people for three hours, then that was our way of giving something back.”
Sure the Giants opened their season with a ceremony; the Yankees flew the World Trade Center’s flag during the World Series and Mark Messier was introduced on the Garden Ice with a fireman’s hat. But none of those had the impact of the Mets that week. They embellished themselves.
Baseball is just a game and in terms of life and death, it really doesn’t matter who wins or loses. But 14 years ago, the Mets and their game played an important part of the healing of New York. No amount of championships can top what the club did that week. They did their part to bring the city back and after September 21st, things started feeling better in the city.