NEW YORK -- A month from Thursday, the country will mark the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, and at the FDNY's 29th Street firehouse, the solemn day will be remembered as strongly as anywhere. Its Ladder 7 was operating in the World Trade Center's South Tower/Vista Hotel when the South Tower collapsed that morning in 2001, killing all members of the truck.
On Wednesday, Padres closer Heath Bell and three of his bullpen mates paid a tribute visit there. It was the morning after a night game against the Mets, bright and early, but no matter. Bell, Josh Spence, Erik Hamren and Anthony Bass taped a large portion of an MLB Fan Cave video there at the firehouse, suiting up in the firemen gear, riding the truck, getting hazed with a dousing of water, even posing for impromptu "firefighter calendar" pics.
"The New York firefighters are unbelievable guys out there," Bell said. "Putting on all this stuff, you don't really appreciate what they do until you actually put all this gear on, and they run around going upstairs and all that stuff. Much love to the firefighters out there."
This was his idea, and his concept for the video script. Earlier this season, Bell befriended two FDNY firefighters who were driving around to all 30 Major League ballparks in 43 days: Joe Coscia of the Engine 16/Ladder 7 company on 29th Street and John Abruzzo of the Engine 1 firehouse near Madison Square Garden. They stayed in touch, and Bell had told them he wanted to make a video as a "fireman" -- the old nickname for relievers -- with their help and involvement.
After an hour or so of shooting at the firehouse, the four Padres were asked to stand out in front of the 29th Street station and pose for pictures. At least a half-dozen firefighters up on the roof dumped buckets of water on their heads down below, breaking them in.
"It was awesome," Bell said. "We had spaghetti and meatballs. Good food. They had all these good cooks. They doused us with water, they got us pretty good. Somehow we're going to have to get them back. I don't know how, but we'll get 'em back somehow."
"That's a little firehouse tradition -- everybody gets a bucket to welcome them into the house," Coscia said. "They wanted to use our gear as kind of pretend firefighters, so we had to haze them. If they're gonna be one of us, they're gonna get it like one of us."
The two ballpark-touring firefighters had applied for and won the opportunity to travel, courtesy of MLB Productions, to all the stadiums in a Chevrolet. The pair were introduced at games along the way in a show of support for all firefighters. They traveled region by region, finishing up at the All-Star Game, and they kept seeing Bell along the way.
"We met Heath actually when we were in San Diego," Abruzzo recalled. "They wanted us to meet in person because he won the Firefighter of the Year Award. I had no clue what that meant. They said it's reliever of the year because they gotta come in and put out the fires. We met a bunch of players on the road, but he was actually one of the most down-to-earth guys who we met. You met him, and he wasn't a ballplayer, he was just kind of a regular guy.
"Through that I guess we got a good rapport with him, and it just so happened that we were traveling the whole West Coast when they were doing their West Coast tour, too. We saw him at Seattle, we saw him in San Fran, we ended up seeing him in L.A., so he thought we were stalking him, but we just happened to be on the same road trip as he was. We stayed friends. They came out to New York and he hit us up and he said, 'Join me, we're heading out to the Fan Cave.' We said, 'Why not?'"
Regular members of the 29th Street firehouse enjoyed the visit, offering advice on which helmets to wear and how to pull on the gear. After the dousing ceremony, the dispatcher announced an alarm, and with that Engine 16 and today's Ladder 7 members were off on a call, 15 minutes away. The Padres stayed behind in the firehouse along with Coscia and Abruzzo (both of whom were off Wednesday), clad in the pants and suspenders, calendar-style.
The video will premiere soon on MLBFanCave.com.
Still wearing a full firefighter suit back at the Fan Cave, where they finished the shoot, Bell said of the home of the MLB Dream Job winner: "I would love to have an off-day so I could hang out here, play some video games and play some games with the guys. Actually, this is where I want to stay tonight. If it's at all possible to make a bed, I'll forgo my hotel room and I'll stay here."
It was the busiest day ever at the Fan Cave. As Bell and his teammates were clearing out, Yankees ace CC Sabathia and wife Amber were arriving, for a Pepsi Max Field of Dreams Contest promotion. And while Sabathia was rumbling through more than 20 media interviews, Twins catcher Joe Mauer was on the 15-screen Cave Monster, doing a live Fan Cave ballpark cam interview with Dream Job winner Mike O'Hara. All the while, a New Era retail summit event was happening downstairs.
Mauer talked about teammate Jim Thome and his pursuit of 600 home runs, and how quietly it has happened. "That's the kind of guy Jim is. I don't think he likes a lot of the attention," Mauer said.
"It's a big day for us," O'Hara said. "It's been kind of a cross-country visit. We've had guys from San Diego on the West Coast, we have CC Sabathia here from the East Coast and we've got Joe Mauer in the Midwest. That's the kind of day that happens at the Fan Cave quite a bit, and when we look back at the season, this is one I'll remember for a long time."