Baseball, Sports

Baseball helped heal nation on Sept. 11

Think back to the day before 9/11 and the word “normalcy” might refresh your memory. New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Pres. George W. Bush constantly used the word in press conferences.

Major League Baseball helped the U.S. — New York, in particular — take that first step toward normalcy on Sept. 21, 2001.

In the first game played since the terrorist attacks stopped the season, New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza blasted a go-ahead, two-run home run in the eighth inning to lead the Mets to victory over the rival Atlanta Braves.

Watching the game, it was obvious that the homer was more than just a play that led the Mets to victory. The fans at Shea Stadium roared with electricity that could be felt just watching on TV. You didn’t have to be in Queens to feel the emotional lift from Piazza’s longball.

Leading up to the game, all that was known for sure was there weren’t going to be many dry eyes in the stadium.

While the home run felt and looked like a normal baseball game, there were constant reminders that things had changed. After the game, players from both teams embraced on the field and shook hands. You just don’t see that in baseball.

In every baseball stadium during the seventh inning stretch, the 100-year-old song “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” — which is synonymous with the game — was being replaced with “God Bless America.”

Two of the biggest sports stories even took a backseat and didn’t have the same feeling. Before 9/11, Barry Bonds was chasing Mark McGwire’s then-single-season home run record. In basketball, arguably the greatest athlete of all-time was supposed to make his announcement that he was returning to the NBA. Instead, Michael Jordan’s return didn’t quite carry the same weight.

Everyone wasn’t looking at New York’s most prominent team the same that season. The Yankees were participating in one of the greatest World Series of all-time against the Arizona Diamondbacks. With just as many enemies as fans, many — just for the emotional factor alone — were all of a sudden rooting for the Yankees.

Things looked to be mysteriously swinging in their favor when the Yankees overcame an 0-2 deficit to take a 3-2 series lead, and pulled New York to within one win of another World Series title.

It started in Game 4 on Oct. 31, when Derek Jeter hit a walk-off homer off Arizona closer Byung-Hyun Kim with the clock turning past midnight. For an event that has never been played past October, Jeter was given the nickname “Mr. November.”

Kim was on the wrong end of another memorable ending in Game 5, when Scott Brosius hit a game-tying, two-out blast in the ninth before winning the game in 12 innings.

But, normalcy kicked in and it felt like baseball again. Arizona rebounded to win Game 6 and 7 to be crowned the champions of baseball, and it felt right rooting against the Yankees again. It isn’t remembered as the World Series post-Sept. 11. Instead, that series is remembered for Luis Gonzalez’ dramatic, series-winning bloop single off Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.

Order and normalcy had taken a giant step toward being restored.

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