The Tenth Inning – Week 23 ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>
By Mike Ivcic
Allow me, please, the opportunity to veer off of a normal column for just one week and bring you back to a baseball game that has, for so many, become so much more than just a baseball game. Weâll return to some pennant-race breakdowns next week (and there are some good matchups detailed down below) but for now, I think itâs important to reflect in this space, in this week, on September 21, 2001.
It’s almost fitting, considering that Chipper Jones made the final visit of his career to New York this weekend, especially when juxtaposed with Tuesday’s historical context, for it’s the convergence of all of those events that leads my mind back to the third Friday in September eleven years ago. No American â and, for that matter, virtually no human being â alive and aware on September 11, 2001 will ever forget the events. Baseball, football, and really most of the regular routines and aspects of daily life ceased to matter for a period of time, crashing to a halt as two, 110-story towers housing significant players in the financial world and representing the capitalism and freedom of the United States of America both crumbled to the ground, while four states south a similar complex of people and symbol of our nation’s national security and defense lost an entire wall. A number of brave passengers â those who truly deserve the title of hero â forced a plane to the ground in western Pennsylvania and saved the lives of hundreds more innocent Americans. A country, in shock, could do little more than stand in stunned silence, watching as the images became burned in our minds and on our hearts.
There were no sports played that week or weekend, as most of the country spent time grieving, alternating between the outrage of the attack and the despair of losing so many loved ones. Football postponed its second week, moving their scheduled games to the end of the season after week 17, while baseball resumed the following Monday with its full slate and likewise added the lost games on to the end of the regular season. It’s that cancelation of a week’s worth of games that marked the first move towards the event in Flushing ten days later, as both the Mets and Yankees resumed play on the road. Indeed, then, the first sporting event of any kind to be held in New York in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 would be the resumption of the National League’s best rivalry from the previous two seasons â Braves at Mets.
As Chipper made his final stop in Queens this weekend, the media bombarded him with questions about his memories of New York during his press conference prior to the series. After all, Jones did name his now-8-year-old son Shea, after the Mets former ballpark. Jones referenced Shea by mentioning two specific homeruns â his very own first career homerun in 1995, “a 2-0 fastball off of Josias Manzanillo and we won 3-2,” he told the pool of reporters with impressive specificity 467 homeruns later, and of course the infamous Robin Ventura grand slam single in the 15th inning of Game 5 of the 1999 NLCS â before turning to the aforementioned game on September 21. Prior to the game, members of New York City’s police and fire departments honored their fallen brethren with a 21-gun salute, and Chipper â playing leftfield that evening â picked up some of the shell casings that fell and pocketed them as a souvenir. He even told reporters that he still travels with them as a remembrance of that night and the day it symbolizes.
Ultimately, though, baseball was finally played at Shea Stadium in New York City that night, though not many dry eyes remained. Despite so much energy in the building, both teams would say later that they really never felt completely focused on actually playing the game. But when Brian Jordan doubled home pinch-runner Cory Aldrich in the top of the eighth inning to give Atlanta a 2-1 lead, it appeared that the Braves were once again going to seize the day from the Mets.
But all that did was set the stage. I tried multiple times to write this paragraph, and I quite simply cannot, and so instead I give you Mets broadcaster Howie Rose, saying thisâ¦.
I am a Mets fan. I was born in 1984. As I don’t much remember the 1986 World Series, this stands out as the pinnacle moment in my lifetime for my favorite ballclub. But it was the clarity with which Chipper Jones â long the Mets killer â spoke of that moment that brought me back to it yet again. Every year I find myself drawn to watching that ball sail over the wall, and hearing what I know quite well to be a deafening Shea Stadium roar grow louder by the moment in direct correlation to the ball’s proximity to the wall. The culminating screams and cheers as the tiny white baseball smacked off the triple-decker black TV tower to the left of centerfield is, to this day, the loudest I have ever heard any baseball stadium for a regular season game. Period. Chipper said as much himself, reflecting on how he and Andruw Jones exchanged glances as Piazza rounded the bases and nearly smiled in an understanding that it almost seemed fitting â like the Braves just weren’t going to win that game.
But more than who won or who lost (and yes, Atlanta won the division and the Mets, despite a valiant late surge, missed the playoffs), September 21, 2001 was about the uniting of two groups of people formerly believed to be enemies because they were in a pursuit of something greater than themselves. The Braves and Mets managed, for one night, to become an instrumental part of the healing process for so many people craving just an ounce of the normalcy lost ten days prior. And that, to me, is the purpose of sports, and thus the beauty of baseball. So imbedded in our nation’s culture and history is this great game that it can deliver moments on an almost nightly basis that continues to attract fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, boyfriends and girlfriends, grandparents, babies, and people of all race and religion to spend a day at the ballpark. But sometimes, baseball comes through on an even bigger stage, in an even bigger way. For a country so desperate to smile, to laugh, to hope, and to cheer, the game of baseball delivered in a way nothing else could have that night.
I am a Mets fan. I am a baseball fan. But most especially, I am American. And I am damn proud of it.
September 11, 2001. We will never forget.
Playoff “Dead” List
Three (or in this case Four) series to watch this weekâ¦
If the season ended today, the playoff teams would beâ¦
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