NEW YORK -- The New York Mets are a New York City institution, and when New Yorkers needed a shoulder to lean on in the aftermath of 9/11, they stepped right up to the plate.
Baseball became so much more than just a game on Sept. 21, 2001, the night of Mike Piazza's game-winning home run that brought the city to tears. America's national pastime, even if only for a moment, provided an opportunity to heal, and New York embraced its on-field heroes with an emotional outpouring at Shea Stadium that will forever be remembered.
David Wright wasn't in the Major Leagues yet, but as the current face of the franchise, he embodies what the franchise means to this city. He wants fans to remember the magic of that night at Shea Stadium, but he doesn't want them to forget those who risked and lost their lives just days earlier.
On Monday, Wright continued his now eight-year tradition of visiting a firehouse around the anniversary of 9/11, dropping in on Squad 18 to show that even New York's most heralded stars respect the work that firefighters do every day.
"It's something that I look forward to doing, coming and visiting the firehouses each year and especially around this time," Wright said. "It's important that we continue to remember that on a daily basis, these men and women risk their lives to try and keep us safe."
Squad 18 lost seven members on 9/11 -- their photos are hung on the front door of the firehouse and their names are etched into the sidewalk. Squad 18 has just one truck, but all seven names are painted on the back.
"It's very special. To go back there and spend some time with the firefighters and hear the stories that they have and hear the way that they remember the peers that they lost on 9/11, it's touching and moving," Wright said. "It's something I really look forward to doing each year.
"It's unfortunate that we celebrate what these men and women do only a few days a year. I get more out of it than the firefighters do, so I really enjoy it."
Wright, Mets COO Jeff Wilpon and New York City Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano spent an hour with the current members of Squad 18, sharing laughs, posing for photos and playing a few games of darts in the firehouse. Wright's father, Rhon, is a police chief in Norfolk, Va.
"He's a big-time baseball player, but yet he's a down-to-earth kind of guy," said firefighter John Darcy, who has been with Squad 18 for 14 years. "You can see he's really good with the guys and he didn't forget where he came from. He's a good guy."
The phrase "Never Forget" has become synonymous with commemorating and remembering 9/11, but the two words are just as strong 11 years later. Darcy, who lost a cousin during the attacks, said he and his fellow firefighters think about those they lost every single day. He said he had no doubt that every firehouse involved in the aftermath is the same way.
"It's great to have David out here, the face of the franchise, to give back to these fireman who lost a lot of people from this firehouse, and the ability to do it year in and year out," Wilpon said.
"It's nice for the Mets to come down here to help remember the day, and to put it out there for folks who maybe weren't here on 9/11," Captain Brian Smith said. "[The Mets] are a city institution, as is the Fire Department. So it's good that they're able to support each other."
The Mets will don first-responder hats during batting practice and the national anthem on Tuesday in honor of those who lost their lives 11 years earlier.
"I know it's heavy on our parts. Any time we take the field on 9/11, it's really tough to concentrate on baseball, because you're thinking about the memories, you see the signs in the stands," Wright said. "You realize just how important these men and women are, not only to New York but around the country."
Adam Rosenbloom is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.