Yanks pause, reflect as 9/11 anniversary nears
NEW YORK -- The bright ribbon that rims the bottom of the third deck of Yankee Stadium shimmered brightly in marked contrast to the dreariness of this Wednesday afternoon in the Bronx. Dreary was everywhere and gloomy was on deck, even as the ribbon showed American flags rippling in the wind. High above the lights and the distinctive frieze of the stadium, the electronics were unnecessary. Natural wind moved real flags, spreading the drizzle and making the day even less comfortable.
And all the while, fatigue, the residue of the Orioles-Yankees yawner Tuesday night, made the conditions less conducive to the afternoon's program -- 9/11 ceremonies and a baseball game.
The inescapable thought, as irreverent as it might have been, was this: It wouldn't have been this way if George Steinbrenner were alive. The Boss wouldn't have tolerated it. He didn't suffer dreary at his ballpark. And gloomy was not afforded entry. He would have demanded something better, cheerier. He would have ordered clear skies, comfortable humidity and three of only the prettiest clouds. A pleasant breeze would have caused the flags to ripple. And Steinbrenner would have happily covered the cost.
Last September, when the Yankees unveiled the enormous plaque -- saluting Steinbrenner -- that was installed beyond the bleachers in right-center field, general manager Brian Cashman recalled how The Boss enjoyed planning ceremonies at the ballpark. Steinbrenner always paid attention to details and loved to add the colors to whatever he planned.
It was Steinbrenner who decided "God Bless America" be made a permanent part of the seventh-inning stretch at Yankee Stadium, Steinbrenner who wanted the powerful Kate Smith recording to be used any time the song wasn't performed live and Steinbrenner who used to speak so highly of Cagney and his Yankee Doodle Dandy.
The Boss wasn't born on the Fourth of July for nothin'.
The Yankees did all they could in their four-days-premature observance of the 10th anniversary of the attacks that changed our world; they paused for patriotism, remembered the tragedy and saluted the stars and stripes. They presented, among others, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Sgt. First Class Leroy Petry, the second living recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, was the final introduction. Steinbrenner would have appreciated that touch. He might have ordered it.
But the presentations were shrouded in dreariness -- gray day, dank conditions and perhaps 20 percent of the seats occupied. The introductions echoed off the empty seats. At times, the real flags could be heard flapping, a sad setting for the anniversary of such a sad day.
Perhaps that was the point, to remind us of the gloom of the period that began when the first plane took out the first tower and lasted for weeks -- or until we run out of todays and tomorrows.
Weathermen might have identified 9/11 as one of the 10 best days of year. It was a handsome late-summer morning until smoke obscured the cloudlessness -- and the future.
"I was home. My mother-in-law was watching the news and I heard her screaming," Mariano Rivera said Wednesday before the program. "I got up, and she said something happened with the towers. I looked out the window, and it was a beautiful day. I went up and washed my face, and when I came back down, I actually saw the second plane hit the tower, the second tower.
"Definitely, I knew that wasn't just an accident, that was something else."
The Yankees made Rivera, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada -- 75 percent of the defunct Core Four -- available Wednesday to share their memories and thoughts of the events of that awful day.
"I was asleep. I woke up, and I had a message from Jorge saying that to let him know if I had heard anything about our game because something had happened at the World Trade Center," Jeter said. "I turned on the TV and that's when I was made aware of it."
The Yankees were home on that date. They were to have played the White Sox at night.
"I was at the hospital with [my son] Jorge," Posada said. "We had our second operation with him, he had an infection and we were there for a month. As he was getting better during that time, he wanted to watch some kind of show on videotape. So I put in the videotape, and I saw the first plane go in the first tower. I didn't think anything of it, I thought it was a movie. I put the tape in, he wanted to rewind it and watch it from the beginning. As I was rewinding the tape, I saw the second plane go in, and I was like, 'Something is going on.'
"I called home, I called Derek, I called my wife who wasn't at the hospital that day -- I was with my mother-in-law. I started hearing noises in the hallways. ... I thought the worst was coming."
Rivera recalled going to the Jacob Javits Center.
"I don't think the whole team was there, but a few of us were there seeing the firefighters and the police department and members of the families that had lost people in the towers. It was shocking. We were there and I didn't know what to say. I put my arm around people and some started saying, 'Thank you for being here.' At that time, I was telling myself, 'What can I say to these people to make them feel comfortable?'"
The subject wasn't one the players enjoyed discussing Wednesday. How could it be? But there were moments.
"It was uncomfortable," Jeter said as he recalled his 10-year-old feelings. "That's the best way to put it. Because we're baseball players, people always look at us as being heroes and to have an opportunity to meet those families and firefighters and EMS workers; they were the true heroes at the time. We were visiting families and people who lost loved ones. What do you say to them?
"It was an uncomfortable position for me. It probably benefited us probably even more than the families themselves, because we had an opportunity to hear how much we meant to these families and giving them something to cheer about for at least three hours a day. It was an experience that I'll always remember, but it was uncomfortable."
Posada recalled the team's first trip after baseball resumed. The Yankees played in Chicago on Sept. 18-20, 2001.
"I remember that banner in right field when I was warming up," Posada said. "There was a banner that said, 'Chicago loves New York.' That put everything into perspective."
"What I remember was the whole country got together," Rivera said. "That's the beautiful thing about it, and that's what I still remember. I wish it was [still] like that, but it's not. The whole country, the whole United States got together and it was amazing. Everybody hugging, it didn't matter what race or color you were, you were here for this one nation and unified and trying to move forward, and that's exactly what we did."
The forward movement brought the Yankees to the World Series.
"I think Joe Torre said it especially before we started the playoffs," Posada said. "He told us we weren't playing for only New York, we're playing for the rest of the country. That stuck with me. Every game was exciting. We had a chance to do something special. Obviously, we came up a little short, but we played for the people of New York and the country. I think everybody was pulling for us."
"The whole playoffs, all the way to the World Series was tremendous," Rivera said. "I don't call it magical, I call it a blessing. The way we won the games, we were able to give the city of New York time to forget about what happened for a little bit -- three hours or whatever the game took. Even though we lost the World Series, we did our best. I believe, to me, that was the best World Series ever played. We fell short, but at the same time, we did everything in our power to win the World Series and give New York what they deserved.
"We'd been a part of a lot of big games over the years, but that was probably the loudest I heard Yankee Stadium. It was fun, especially those three games there. We did things that no team had ever done. We gave New Yorkers something to cheer for. I think we did Yankees fans proud that year."
Disappointed as he was, The Boss aprroved.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.