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Patriotism the theme at Kauffman
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09/11/2002 9:25 pm ET 
Patriotism the theme at Kauffman
By Robert Falkoff /

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Tom Van Pelt didn't want to be anywhere other than Kauffman Stadium on Sept. 11.

Van Pelt, wife Cindy and their three young children watched with a sense of pride Wednesday night as the Royals and Major League Baseball remembered the victims from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 with a patriotic pregame ceremony.

"I bought tickets on Opening Day to come out, not knowing if there would be a ceremony," Van Pelt said.

In Kansas City, they didn't forget.

At 6:49 p.m., an American flag 100 feet long was unfurled in center field. The crowd, mostly dressed in red, white and blue, stood in unison. Public address announcer Chuck Morgan read a letter from President Bush. There was a flyover from the B-2 Bomber from the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base and country music recording artist Doug Stone sang the National Anthem.

The first pitch was delivered by 10-year-old Daniel Gray of Gladstone. Gray is the nephew of Ronald Hemenway of Shawnee, who was killed on Sept. 11, 2001 at the Pentagon.

Later, there would be a performance of "God Bless America" by country music's two-time Entertainer of the Year, Neal McCoy, during the seventh-inning stretch and a Tribute to America fireworks spectacular following the Royals-White Sox game.

"That was nice of the Royals and Major League Baseball as a whole," Van Pelt said. "They did a great job with the presentation."

For Van Pelt, the ceremony hit just the right note.

"I've been to Ground Zero," he said. "It does two things: It makes you proud that you're an American and it makes you proud of the sense of unity that America has come to nowadays. We are one big family. We have to take care of ourselves."

Van Pelt said he was especially glad a baseball strike was averted on Aug. 30, thereby giving people an opportunity to come to Major League ballparks on Sept. 11.

"Baseball is a part of America," Van Pelt said. "If we didn't have baseball tonight, there would be a huge void."

Royals players dealt with their own emotions as they watched the pregame ceremony. Outfielder Dee Brown recalled the anxiety he had felt a year earlier when his girlfriend Erica was flying from New York to Kansas City on the morning of the attacks.

"I woke up and saw what was happening (on television) ," Brown said. "I didn't know if the girl I love was on one of those planes. I saw a plane going into a building around the same time that my girlfriend was supposed to be leaving the New York area. I'll never forget the feeling I had that morning. For those who lost loved ones, I can only imagine what those families are going through today."

Brown has a brother-in-law in New York who escaped the second tower of the World Trade Center shortly before it collapsed.

"My mother talked to his mother today," Brown said. "She said he's doing fine. But obviously, he's going through a lot today."

Royals reliever Jeremy Hill said Sept. 11 ceremonies in Major League Baseball parks is an important part of a continuous healing process.

"I think it's important to always remember," Hill said. "Always." In Kansas City, they didn't forget.

Robert Falkoff covers the Royals for This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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