NEW YORK -- Ten years later, Bobby Valentine is still directly involved with emergency response -- only in a more official capacity than when he helped tend to those in need at Shea Stadium while serving as manager of the Mets and a whatever-it-takes concerned citizen.
Valentine, now an ESPN baseball analyst, is director of public safety for his hometown of Stamford, Conn. He works with a group that includes 253 firefighters, a fact he was sharing with Fire Department of New York and New York Police Department members who were all gathered Friday night to watch some baseball and eat pizza at the MLB Fan Cave before a city's somber anniversary.
"I work with the police, I work with fire, I work with EMS, and I appreciate every minute that they are on the job, every minute they are there to keep us safe," said Valentine, surrounded by first responders who all shared stories as a state of heightened alert existed outside the doors. "Remember, we live in the home of the free because of the brave, and I'm only proud to say that I am dealing with them and I have been with them for a long time.
"I heard that some of the city's finest and some of the greatest and coolest guys in the world would be here, so I said I have to say, 'Hi,' and share some friendship and sports with them."
Valentine's Mets were the first to return to play after the hiatus immediately following Sept. 11, 2001, and Mike Piazza, then their catcher, has said that whenever he would look for his manager, Valentine was typically tending to those in need as Shea was a staging area during rescue and relief efforts. Now that a big anniversary is arriving, Valentine said it is still an ongoing process.
"I have a lot of friends who are still healing," Valentine said. "I understand that that process takes a long time. I think the nation is still healing. There are still people who live with a little fear, who still live with intimidation and anger. The more we can do the right thing at the right time, the more we can try to heal this entire situation and just move on."
A couple dozen FDNY and NYPD members came to the Fan Cave because they play for their respective department's competitive baseball team, and all of them said this visit, as with their own baseball games, was a much-needed relief. At the 2011 World Police & Fire Games, which drew some 20,000 full-time firefighters and law-enforcement personnel from 70 countries to compete in 69 sports, the FDNY beat the NYPD, 7-2, in the gold-medal game between friendly rivals.
The FDNY baseball team was started up by Andre Fletcher, a member of FDNY Rescue 5 on Staten Island. He died at the World Trade Center terrorist attack, and he was not the only team member lost. Others picked up the pieces after the disaster, needing an outlet, gradually infused with younger firefighters who were also good athletes. Some of these guys have been Minor Leaguers.
"That's what we used baseball for after 9/11 -- kind of a reprieve after all that, after a year of funerals," said Scott Miller, an FDNY member of Engine 263 in the Astoria section of Queens. He organized this visit. "We started playing baseball and it got our mind off everything. It was a horrific time, not only for FDNY and NYPD, but for civilians in general."
Miller worked a long shift the night before Sept. 11, 2001, and on that Tuesday morning, he and colleagues looked out at the sky and saw the smoke. Then they were alerted. In their case, they were gradually assigned to "fill in for all those firehouses in Manhattan where they were sending people in.
"If you were working on duty, you couldn't just run down there [to Ground Zero]. You had to wait for the city to send you. That zone, after that happened, you had to figure out who was missing. A lot of guys went down there anyway. I went down four days later, when rescue was still going on. You didn't know what to expect. It was worse than you imagined. If dogs were attentive to something, all of a sudden everyone would stop and you would hope."
The three Reznick brothers from the FDNY were at the Fan Cave. Joe, 36, is a lieutenant on Engine 83 in South Bronx. Tim, 32, is a lieutenant for Ladder 49 in South Bronx. Tom, 28, is a firefighter for Ladder 150 in Hollis, Queens. Their father, Joe, is now chief of narcotics for the NYPD, and 10 years ago he was chief of detectives in the Bronx.
They were telling the story Friday night of how their father went missing in the hours after the Twin Towers fell. The two youngest brothers said the worst part was not wondering where their father was, but hearing the fear in their mother's voice as she tried frantically to locate him.
"If mom said, 'Everything's all right,' that was what mattered. But we weren't hearing that," Tim said. "There were no cell phones to use then. Then my brother, Joe, was able to get through to the Bronx detectives' office, and he was yelling at them, asking what's going on and telling them our mother needs to know. It just so happened that they had just heard from him at that point. He was there.
"Dad came to the house that night at midnight. His car was filled with soot. He had been helping at Ground Zero. He took a shower, changed his clothes and went right back. Mom couldn't believe it. He was down there for three or four days, driving back and forth from there to Staten Island, helping in the rescue and recovery. I said, 'Dad, I want to go down there.' He wouldn't let me."
All three brothers said it became obvious after 9/11 that they were going to join the Fire Department. At the time, the younger Joe was a cop, sent to block the Manhattan Bridge. None of the three could imagine that this day would come, 10 years later, that they would be all gathered for an ephemeral evening of smiles with that former Mets manager, telling stories and watching the 2011 Mets on the Cave Monster TV screens, before turning back to the stark reality that would be there in their face, everywhere.
"It was obvious it was something I wanted to do after seeing my dad go down there every day," Tom said. "It was a no-brainer to me. I wanted to do it."