Sept. 11 events had impact outside NYC
Players remember where they were at the time of attacks
The focus, rightfully so, was on New York City. And the Pentagon. And a field of heroism and devastation in Western Pennsylvania.
But the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, had a numbing, frightful affect on the entire nation, and the five years that have passed since that dreadful day have done nothing to fade the uncomfortable memories.
"It doesn't seem like it's been five years because you're reminded day in and day out because of some terrorist act," says Braves outfielder Brian Jordan. "I can't believe it's been five years. It seems like it was yesterday."
The tragedy left nobody untouched. Time stood still, and Major League Baseball followed suit. With unanimous support from everyone in the game, Commissioner Bud Selig shut the game down for a week.
"That was great on the part of Bud Selig to do that because no one wanted to watch baseball at that time," says Wes Helms of the Marlins. "I think after we came back, it took everybody's mind off of it because people could watch a sporting event, which is entertainment, and kind of settle their nerves. Hopefully, we did our part."
Eventually, yes. On Sept. 11, 2001, though, baseball was the last thing on anybody's mind.
"The first thing I thought of was to get out of New York and get here [home to Houston]," says Astros pitcher Andy Pettitte, who was with the Yankees at the time. "[Yankees manager Joe] Torre was just like, 'Take care of your families, whatever you need to do.'"
"It was a crazy day," says Jack Wilson, whose Pirates were scheduled to play the Mets at PNC Park that night. "My wife was pregnant with our son, Jacob, and she had her first visit with the doctor that day. I remember the receptionist there saying that the planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. We watched it on TV as soon as we got home and it was pretty unbelievable.
"It didn't seem real."
Unreal. That's one of the first thoughts that came to mind as word quickly spread across the country in the minutes and hours immediately after the attacks.
"It was weird," says Cubs outfielder Juan Pierre, who was with the Rockies at the time. "We were on the West Coast. When we woke up, it had already happened. Guys turned on SportsCenter, and you wanted to see sports, and it was like, 'Hey, man, hold on.' They showed it . I called [teammate] Terry Shumpert and said, 'Hey, man, did you see what happened? Is it real?'
"You just stayed glued to the TV all day long."
That's what much of the country did that day. Many of us helplessly watched the horror unfold from afar as soon as we heard about what had happened. Red Sox outfielder Trot Nixon, however, was on a plane when it happened.
The morning of the attacks, before they started, Nixon was in Tampa preparing for a series against the Devil Rays when he received a call from his wife, Kathryn, who told him she was going into labor. Nixon quickly got on a flight back to Boston so he could be there to witness the birth of his first child, a son named Chase.
While in the air, he received a double dose of heartache.
"One of the flight attendants walked back like she was sick to her stomach," Nixon recalls. "The pilot came on the intercom and said we were going to have to ground our flight in Norfolk, Virginia. There had been an unfortunate tragedy in New York. And he said there was a terrorist attack.
"I wanted the plane to hurry up and land so I could call Kathryn. I didn't think about anything other than the fact that Kathryn was up there, and I wanted to be there for the birth of my son. Anyone who has had children always wants to be there for the birth. I wanted to land and find out what was going on.
"When I got on the ground, you could see what was done, the damage, on TV. ... And I realized then that there weren't going to be any more flights out that day. You can't delay pregnancies, and I knew she was probably going to have to go on without me.
"I was really bummed out because I wasn't going to be there for this beautiful day -- my son being born. I asked my Mom, 'Why? Why did this have to happen right now?'"
Why? That's another thought widely associated with 9/11. A's pitcher Barry Zito remembers asking the question over and over.
"You try to fathom what you're seeing with your own eyes, and you can't," he says. "Why? How? Who? You just had so many questions, but it kept coming back to, 'Why?' It was so beyond comprehension, so surreal, so inhuman, you almost didn't believe it. You didn't want to believe it, but it's right there on your TV screen, live."
Shortly after play resumed, the scene of destruction that most of us have seen only on TV screens became all too real for Jordan and some of his Atlanta teammates. The first games back were played on Sept. 17, and after a four-game series in Philadelphia, the Braves traveled by bus to take on the Mets at Shea Stadium on Friday, Sept. 21, for the first post-attacks game in New York.
Chipper Jones recalls seeing "that plume of haze over the city" as the bus rolled into town.
"It was an eerie, eerie feeling driving in there, because we didn't know what to expect," he says. "We were the first sporting event going in there. You don't know if there were going to be follow-up attacks or what. It was a pretty scary time. What better place to carry out an attack than at a jam-packed sporting venue?
"We were all a little nervous and hesitant."
The understandable trepidation gave way to another strange sensation once the game started.
"It almost didn't matter who won that game," says Jordan. "It was good to be back playing -- and playing for the fans of New York."
"That's a game that none of us who were there will ever forget," adds Jones. "It's probably the only time in my career when it's been less about baseball and more about entertaining people. No matter how minor the game of baseball is, it still gave people something to get their minds off it for a couple of hours."
And that the Mets won the game, on a dramatic -- some say cathartic -- home run by Mike Piazza, was fine by the Braves.
"Competitively, you want to win," Jordan says. "But it was just a great time to see Piazza win the game right there for New York. They needed something."
The next day, manager Bobby Cox was among the Braves who visited Ground Zero.
"It was a lot worse down there than it was on television," Cox says. "It was a bigger area in person. It was scary. It was just surreal."
Wilson's Pirates made their first trip back into New York about three weeks after the attacks, and the experience featured a mixture of pride and anxiety.
"The people came out to the game with their American flags," he says. "I remember there was a ceremony, and they showed footage that was very touching, then they sang 'God Bless America.' Then, as they were singing the national anthem, a plane flew over the stadium and everybody jumped. Every guy in our line jumped, and every guy in their line jumped. It was pretty scary.
"You knew, from then on, you'd never look at planes the same way."
When air travel resumed in the days after the attacks, some players, such as Pettitte, chartered planes to get home. But Nixon couldn't afford to wait. So after meeting up with some family members in North Carolina after landing in Virginia, he drove to Boston and got there a few hours after Chase introduced himself to the world.
"When they finally got there, it was about 3 a.m.," says Kathryn. "And he was with his mom, his dad, and his sister. For them to have come all that way, it was all very emotional."
Twenty-one hours after that labor call from Kathryn, the disastrous day now known simply as "9/11" was -- technically, at least -- over.
It was Sept. 12. A better day.
"I went right over there and grabbed [Chase] and just held him," Nixon says. "The biggest thing I felt was relief. All that had happened that day seemed to escape my mind for a little bit, because I was spending my first moments with my son."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.