Nine Years Later, First Game After 9/11/01 Reverberates For New York Mets Fans

Jim MancariCorrespondent ISeptember 11, 2010

394801 03: Manager Bobby Valentine and catcher Mike Piazza of the New York Mets applaude in honor of New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani before the Mets'' game against the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium in Flushing, NY September 21, 2001 in the first major sporting event in the New York area since the World Trade Center disaster. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Allsport/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

September 11, 2001 started off as any other regular day. I was in eighth grade at the time, school had just started a few days before, and I basically didn't have a care in the world.

However, the events of that day struck fear into the nation, to the point where we still feel the effects today.

The Mets were in Pittsburgh at the time of the attacks. Commissioner Bud Selig had cancelled all games for the next five days so players could spend some needed time with their families to properly mourn the tragedy.

The first act that transcended baseball during that two week period was the fact that Shea Stadium was transformed into a staging area for the Ground Zero recovery and cleanup missions. Cots were set up in the stadium tunnels for police officers, firefighters, and rescue workers to rest between their shifts. Bobby Valentine, John Franco, and other Mets offered their support in unloading supply trucks and bolstering the morale following the attacks. Some players even ventured to Ground Zero and helped out in whatever way they could.

Each player donated a day's pay to the relief efforts, which totaled $450,000. According to former Mets' GM Steve Phillips, Vance Wilson, a rookie at the time, stood up during a team meeting following the attacks and said that he no longer wanted to hear any grumblings about minor inconveniences the players had endured. He said that people had lost family members which was more important than anything at that point.

Games resumed September 16, with the Mets still in Pittsburgh. They were in the middle of a race for the Wild Card spot, but that really didn't matter. What mattered more was restoring the nation after the terrorist attacks. And what better way for that to occur than through America's pastime: the game of baseball.

Shea Stadium hosted the first professional sporting event in NYC since the attacks against their arch-rival, the Atlanta Braves, on September 21. Security was at an all time high for this game and rightly so. The Mets' players wore caps and badges commemorating the efforts of the FDNY, NYPD, and other organizations aiding in the relief effort.

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Mayor Rudy Giuliani was honored before the game, and despite his being a Yankee fan, he was given a standing ovation by the Shea faithful. Words cannot describe his efforts during that dark time in NYC's history.

Following Marc Anthony's rendition of the National Anthem, the Mets and Braves players met near the mound and began embracing each other. Bitter rivals who were fighting for playoff spots embracing before a game? That just shows you the emotion felt by these players. The rivalry was trivial in the face of what had happened several days earlier.

Bruce Chen took the hill for the Mets against the Braves' young righty Jason Marquis. The game was tied at one going into the seventh, but John Franco, who had offered so much of his time and support to the relief effort, was charged with the go-ahead run in the top of the eighth, when Armando Benitez gave up a double to Brian Jordan. Franco was visibly shaken by his performance, knowing what this game meant to so many New Yorkers.

During a memorable seventh inning stretch, Diana Ross performed "God Bless America" followed by Liza Minnelli's riveting performance of "New York, New York." These performances must have motivated the Mets because the events that followed were also incidents that transcended the game.

With one out in the bottom of the eighth, Edgardo Alfonzo walked against Steve Karsay on an awfully close full-count pitch. In stepped Mets' hero Mike Piazza, who had already hit two doubles that night. I remember thinking to myself, "If Piazza hits a homer here, that place will go insane."

The count was 0-1. I believe quoting Howie Rose would be the best way to describe what happened next: 

"Lopez wants it away...and it's hit deep to left center..Andruw Jones on the run ...this one has a chance! Home run!..Mike Piazza, and the Mets lead 3 to 2!"

Piazza crushed Karsay's offering onto the camera tower in left center field. 41,000 fans immediately jumped to their feet, celebrating what came to be known as "The Healing Power of a Swing."

Piazza later commented:

"It was almost like a blur to me, it was almost like a dream, sort of surreal. We as athletes in a sense have some sort of ability to focus. We try to revert back to that and try to sort of find that and say that, you know, I feel like I'm gonna cry but it's my job so I was torn. We just had to basically dig down deep and do whatever we could to go out there and do our jobs. People obviously found a way to find some sort of joy or happiness or inspiration, you know, but me again I try to keep perspective. I'm just so happy I gave the people something to cheer. There was a lot of emotion. It was just a surreal sort of energy out there. I'm just so proud to be a part of it tonight."

During his curtain call, Piazza poignantly pointed to the crowd and acknowledged the real heroes in attendance who were doing their part to repair the city's wounds.

"You couldn't have scripted it any better," said Mets' outfielder Jay Payton.

As we look back on the tragic events of 9/11/01, let's try to focus more on the unity that overcame the country, especially in New York City. The Mets' victory that night was not only a victory for the team, but it was also a victory for all of New York City. Slowly but surely, wounds were being healed, and New Yorkers conveyed the message that they were no longer afraid.

With his inspirational home run, Piazza further added to his already dazzling Mets' legacy.

Please take a moment at some point today to remember all those lost during the attacks. But also try to reminisce on how the steps of rebuilding the nation began that fateful night at Shea Stadium.

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