09/10/2002 12:11 pm ET
Remembering on the diamond
Seventh-inning stretch became time for reflection
By Paul C. Smith / MLB.com
After six days of reflection following the events of Sept. 11, 2001, as Americans embraced freedom, family and patriotism with a little tighter grip, baseball was there to help ease the return to normalcy.
It was an awkward step but an important step. Americans simply were not sure how to go about living their lives with their re-arranged priorities. Having something they enjoyed, such as a relaxing day at the ballpark, helped people realize that life must go on, as different and as difficult as it seemed.
"I'd like to think, in our own little way, that we really did help," said MLB Commisioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig. "I agonized over whether (playing again) was the right thing to do. And I just decided that it was. It was too early before then, but (Sept. 17) was the right day. It was very significant. Looking back on it now, in a way, we played a special role -- appropriately secondary in the context of all that was happening, but undoubtedly special."
And so it was at ballparks throughout the country, but especially in New York, that the emotions flowed. Every home team already played the national anthem before games, and most honored their own special heroes -- police, emergency workers and firefighters -- in the final three weeks of the regular season games.
One of the the most dramatic and lasting changes came during the seventh inning of the Major League contests. From the envigorating tenor voice of New York police Officer Daniel Rodriguez to the blaring trumpet of Jesse McGuire in Arizona to the booming rendition of Kate Smith's "God Bless America" in Philadelphia, people looked, listened and remembered.
Tears were everywhere. Hugs followed. And the games were not the same.
It was then that the seventh-inning stretch became more of a patriotic stand for Americans.
Who can forget the image of Mike Piazza becoming emotional during the Mets' first game back at Shea and then drilling a dramatic home run to win it.
Major League players throughout both leagues responded with special admiration for the courageous rescue workers by telling them, "You are our heroes."
"You can't help but think about (Sept. 11), especially in the seventh inning when they play that song," said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. "They always show members of the police and fire departments, so you think about it. If you're human, you think about it."
At Yankee Stadium during the playoffs and, especially the World Series, the rest of the country got a feel for just how much it all meant.
None was more memorable than Game 3 of the World Series, the first one played in New York.
Rodriguez, "The Singing Cop," performed the national anthem in a way he learned from one of his mentors: To sing as if it were the last song he would ever sing. By the end of Francis Scott Key's lyrics, an American bald eagle, "Challenger," had been released from the center field bleachers and made his flight of freedom to to a peaceful perch on the pitcher's mound.
Later in the game, just before the home half of the seventh inning, fans looked out above the center field facade where they could see an American flag, recovered from one of the upper floors of the World Trade Center with 12 stars missing and covered in ash, still flying. Thoughts of perseverance and hope filled the hearts of Americans as the flag flew and Rodriguez perfomed "God Bless America."
"It's been emotional to me every time we play God Bless America in the seventh inning," said Yankees manager Joe Torre.
"I think it's important to have a reminder of what happened, of the people who risked their lives," said Yankees reliever Steve Karsay. "The heroes -- the firemen, police, rescue workers -- we need to remember them."
No one symbolized the scene in New York last October better than Rodriguez.
"Rodriguez was wonderful, absolutely," Selig said. "That was particularly inspiring."
Rodriguez, 37, became known as "the Singing Cop" at NYPD because he sometimes sang at funerals and memorials. On Sept. 11, he was about two blocks from the scene when the first tower fell. He lost 23 co-workers. When he was asked to perform during the World Series, he was honored.
"I had already sung at the Yankees-Mets series," Rodriguez told MLB Radio. "After 9/11, when Prayer for America took place at Yankee Stadium, they asked me to come in and sing. And then after that, they requested of me to sing at many of the funerals and memorial services after 9/11. So one thing kind of led to another.
"I just want to share the gift that God gave me, the gift of song, as long as I can."
Rodriguez has been touring the country quite a bit since last fall and released an album that includes "God Bless America" and other special tributes.
McGuire had played the national anthem before Diamondbacks games last season and was the obvious choice to play that and "God Bless America" during the seventh inning stretch of Game 7 of the World Series.
"Jesse's very popular here," said Arizona Director of Game Operations Jeff Golner. "I think what's happened during the seventh inning is a very positive thing for all Americans and came at a time when they needed it most."
Since the end of the 2001 baseball season, many teams still play "God Bless America" on Memorial Day, Independence Day and now every Sept. 11.
The Yankees and Mets, however, still play it during every game.
"I think we're the only club that does it, and I understand why George (Steinbrenner) does it," Torre said. "We're in New York, it had a big impact on our city, our country and the world."
The seventh inning stretch has been a traditional part of the game since the early 1900s. It was during World War I that teams first started playing "The Star Spangled Banner" during the seventh-inning break. The song was adopted as our national anthem in 1931 and then became a pregame staple.
Perhaps "God Bless America" will take a place in the hearts and minds of baseball fans as well.
"I'd grown up always loving Kate Smith's renditon of "God Bless America," Selig said. "It's a very meaningful, patriotic and important song."
Maybe instead of a simple stretch, the seventh inning of games will be recognized more as a time to stand, reflect and move on.
Paul C. Smith is a reporter for MLB.com based in Tampa and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.