09/11/2002 8:36 pm ET
Houston honors its own
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- Last year, Major League Baseball played a big part in helping the country heal from the tragic events that occured on Sept. 11. This year, baseball again did its part to observe an anniversary that will likely continue to be one of the most somber days on the calendar for years to come.
Baseball players from coast to coast understood the importance that America's pastime would play on such a reflective day.
"Last year it was a way to help get back to normalcy," Jeff Bagwell said. "You have to kind of go on with life. We have to try to get back to what we do and continue to play baseball. What we are is entertainment. Throughout the United States it's a way to show patriotism at the games and with the ceremonies."
On Wednesday, the Houston Astros did their part to commemorate the anniversary with a moving and tasteful pregame ceremony that included music, prayer and a display of appreciation for the public servants who protect the city of Houston.
The Astros and Rockies lined up in Opening Day fashion along the first and third base lines to participate in the poignant tribute, which began with the First U.S. Army Calvary Band from Fort Hood, Texas performing renditions of "America the Beautiful," "God Bless the U.S.A" and finally our national anthem.
A group of 343 firefighters from the Houston Fire Department escorted a large American flag onto the field. The number represented the 343 firefighters lost last year on Sept. 11.
"It's nice to give the people that don't get much recognition -- the police department, the firefighters -- to give them recognition for what they do," Bagwell said. "That's the best thing."
Baseball and Americana have gone hand-in-hand for over a century, and on this day in particular, many fans undoubtedly found comfort in attending a baseball game while their patriotic emotions ran high.
Brad Ausmus, who last year halted the postgame champagne celebration after the Astros clinched the division in order to lead his team in a moment of silence for the victims of Sept. 11, acknowledged that baseball would play a big part of the day's rememberance.
"Baseball's an important part of Amercia's past," he said. "And also a part of the fabric of the country. I think baseball's importance increased exponentially after the attacks and equally as important that we remember the people lost in those attacks a year later."
Said GM Gerry Hunsicker: "Certainly it's a day filled with emotion and a day filled with rememberance. It's a reflection on a day that changed all of our lives forever. I'm proud of the role that baseball played a year ago in the healing process. On the first anniversary, I'm pleased that we were able to be at home for this -- that we can share a special moment with the fans here in Houston."
The crowd at Minute Maid Park was by far the largest of the three-game series with the Rockies. Fans waved American flags and donned their "We Shall Not Forget" t-shirts and flag caps, both of which were handed out as fans walked into the gates.
"It's a very difficult day for a lot of families and certainly our prayers go out to those families," said manager Jimy Williams. "We understand that we have to go on, too. If this national pastime is a way to help out, then so be it. I hope we can help out here in tonight's game.
"With all of the games, it's a very important time for us to recognize what has happened and what has tried to be done since that particular day a year ago. There's an awful lot of people who lost their lives."
Nine-year-old Skye McCole Bartusiak, an actress and Houston native who has appeared in several films and television shows including, "The Patriot" and "Cider House Rules," led fans in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
The ceremony concluded when a squad of F-16 jets from the Texas Air National Guard out of Ellington Field few over the ballpark. There was no traditional ceremonial first pitch. Instead, a floral arrangement with the lettering "9-11" sat on a pedestal, along with a baseball, on the pitchers mound to represent the "silent first pitch."
Throughout the game, the normal promotional spots in between innings were suspended for the evening and replaced with patriotic tributes, including a message from President George W. Bush.
Alyson Footer covers the Astros for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.