I can still remember the morning of September 11, 2001. Not visually…the only thing I can recall are the images I saw on television.
After 20 years, the lines begin to blur between real memories and those etched in my mind by the countless hours spent watching television that day, trying to comprehend what had happened and what was going to happen.
Prior to the pandemic, it was the only time in my life where I saw our country literally come to a stop.
No public gatherings. No airplane flights.
And, no sports.
Everything shut down.
I’m not a person who puts a lot of stock in sports being something that unites people, let me make that clear.
I love sports. I’ve made a career in sports, and maybe I’ve seen too much behind the curtain to view the games as anything other than entertainment.
But in the days that we waited to know when we could get back to whatever “normal” was then, we were united as a country.
United first through fear, but then through the strength that always seems to arise in people during moments of tragedy.
New York was the epicenter of that terrible day, along with Washington, D.C. and rural Pennsylvania.
In 2001, as I am now, I was a fan of the New York Yankees.
The Yankees had just finished a three-game series sweep of the Boston Red Sox on Sept. 9, and were rolling, having won 9 of 10.
They were right on the heels of the Seattle Mariners, who would set the all-time record for regular season wins that year, in pursuit of their fourth straight World Championship.
In any other season, the Yankees were “The Evil Empire,” but suddenly they were the avatar for an entire city, and a symbol for our country.
There were no “boos” raining down on them on the road. Instead, they were ambassadors for a city that was reeling and the baseball word showered them with love.
George Bush throwing the ball down the middle at Yankee Stadium 49 days after the 9/11 attacks will forever be one of the greatest first pitches in MLB history
— Jenn (@baseballnchill) September 10, 2021
If the Yankees, the pride of Gotham, could play gritty baseball every night, then we could rebuild and respond after an attack unlike any we had ever experienced.
New York claimed the AL East title, gutted out a five-game series win over the Oakland A’s, and gave the Mariners a gentleman’s sweep to return to the Fall Classic.
Yankees Win Big By Losing World Series
The stars seemed to be lining up for the Yankees to finish the storybook ending that was being predicted.
Then they lost the first two games of the series to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Returning to the Bronx for games 3-5, the Yankees were welcomed home as heroes, not as a team about to watch history slip through its fingers.
Those three games were magical. Derek Jeter became “Mr. November” when he homered off of Byung-Hyun Kim to win Game 4.
It seems only fitting that Jeter was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year.
After taking the middle three games in dramatic fashion, there didn’t seem to be anything that could stand in the way of a Yankee triumph.
We know how that story ended though. Luis Gonzalez slapped a single up the middle and Jay Bell crossed the plate to give the Diamondbacks their first world title.
Healing & Dealing
I still get upset at times about that loss. I watched it standing next to my father, the person who taught me to love baseball and the Yankees.
But in the grand scheme of things, the loss of a series wasn’t as important as what we all gained that season.
No matter what teams we rooted for, playing became as important as winning.
Just having those games go on, as a source of comfort and a welcome distraction, meant more than another banner.
I won’t forget the feeling of Sept. 11.
I also won’t forget how baseball helped me, and millions of others, through that time.
MLB has announced their plans for recognizing the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks tomorrow.
Includes several uniform tributes in the Yankees-Mets game such as first responder caps and the Mets wearing "NEW YORK" across their home whites.
— Chris Creamer (@sportslogosnet) September 10, 2021
The New America
Here we are, 20 years later. America is a very different place. Our troops just left Afghanistan after two decades at war.
We are in a pandemic and the divisions of our society are as exposed as they’ve ever been.
Baseball can be a reflection of those tensions, of the things that pull us apart.
We can also see within the game the true spirit of our nation. Whether you win or lose, there’s another game tomorrow; another chance.
As we reflect on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we can’t neglect the role that baseball played in reminding us that the game isn’t over until it’s over.