It was never about baseball, the unspeakable terrorist attacks that occurred 11 years ago Tuesday. What's remarkable, though, is how indelibly our national pastime has become entwined with memories of the recovery process that followed. From players visiting with first responders to Shea Stadium being used as a relief center to the outpouring of patriotism and unity after play resumed that helped a nation begin to cope with its shock, horror and grief.
To mark the anniversary, MLB.com reached out to 11 diverse baseball people to get their recollections of that fateful day -- and opinions on how it changed the sport and the country.
The Yankees were home. Joe Torre had a luncheon to attend in Manhattan before heading to Yankee Stadium. Coming off three straight World Series championships, he was in demand as a speaker. Then the phone rang.
"I hadn't turned on the television when the car service called and said, 'I guess it's canceled,'" Torre recalled. "I went downstairs where my wife and daughter were. We turned on the TV and it was a very surreal feeling. All of a sudden, baseball wasn't that important."
Torre is now MLB's executive vice president for baseball operations, and there's one thing that strikes him every time he goes back to the Bronx.
"The No. 1 [change] is the security," Torre said. "You go through any airport. Not just airports, but theaters and certain sporting events. I know some people resent it, because we're used to so much freedom, but people were trying to hurt us on our own soil. It was devastating.
"At Yankee Stadium, they still play 'God Bless America' in the seventh inning. And to this day, when they pan the audience, I look at the youngsters and I get a lump in my throat, because those kids aren't going to grow up with the same freedoms we did. It's necessary, but they won't."
Great players tend to have one thing in common. They hate to lose. Braves third baseman Chipper Jones hates to lose, but the night of Sept. 21, 2001, was different. At Shea Stadium, while workers pored over the wreckage of the Twin Towers a few miles away, the first sporting event played in New York since the attack took place.
"That's a game that will be etched in my memory forever," Jones said. "You're talking about two heated rivals. We didn't necessarily like each other very much back then. We got together before the game. You had grown men getting together, shaking hands and sharing hugs. I think we all as Braves knew that night we were in trouble, because we were not only playing a good baseball team, but you just had that feeling that God and every other baseball god was on New York's side that night."
|"I thought it was a movie that I hadn't seen before, and then I realized it was a news channel that [the waitress] was watching. My first thoughts were shock and disbelief and sad feelings for whoever couldn't have gotten out of the buildings. Then I became very, very angry -- almost to the point of wanting to break something or someone."|
|-- Joe West|
Sure enough, Mike Piazza's two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth gave the Mets a 3-2 win. And for that one occasion, even Jones couldn't be too upset.
"Everyone went home feeling great, feeling wonderful. We had done our jobs as baseball players to entertain people," Jones said, "but we had gone above and beyond a normal's day work in that I felt we owed it to New York and the northeastern part of the United States to help heal and take people's minds off that terrible tragedy for a few hours. You had 50 guys going at it pretty hard, and ultimately, Piazza won."
On the left edge of the continent, in the bottom of the eighth inning, Andy Abad made his Major League debut for the Oakland A's on Sept. 10, 2001. He pinch-hit for Jeremy Giambi and stayed in to play first base against the Texas Rangers. Since Abad was 28 years old and had been playing professionally since being drafted in 1993, he was naturally thrilled.
Abad slept in the next morning in the apartment he was borrowing from teammate Adam Piatt, an apartment that didn't have a television set. When Abad woke up, there were 30 missed calls on his cell phone.
"So I called my dad and my sister and they said, 'You don't know what's going on? Turn the TV on or get on the Internet,'" said Abad. "So I got on the Internet and then I drove to the local Wal-Mart. All the TVs had it on at the same time, so I bought a TV for the apartment and set it up and watched it. It was pretty amazing. It was one of those deals where you finally get called up to the big leagues and then all of a sudden, something tragic like that happens to our country."
Even though games weren't being played, like all teams, the A's continued to work out. In a simulated game, Abad suffered a strained oblique. He didn't play another game that season and didn't make it back to the big leagues until two years later with the Red Sox.
"It kind of puts stuff in perspective," said Abad. "You bust your tail for so many years to get there, all the bus trips and the connecting flights through the Minor Leagues and all that, and then all of a sudden, all that gets put on the back burner. It's not even an issue."
Country Joe West became a full-time Major League umpire in 1978 and is now the senior arbiter in the game. In 2001, however, he was temporarily sidelined by a labor dispute between management and the men in blue.
West was stocking the cooler at his sports bar on Florida's Atlantic Coast when he saw the plane hit the second tower.
"I thought it was a movie that I hadn't seen before, and then I realized it was a news channel that [the waitress] was watching," West said. "My first thoughts were shock and disbelief and sad feelings for whoever couldn't have gotten out of the buildings. Then I became very, very angry -- almost to the point of wanting to break something or someone."
That was a common reaction in the turbulent days following the attacks. But out of this rose a new respect for the American flag and the military.
"Did 9/11 change this country? Yes, absolutely," West said. "And every now and then, I think we should all be reminded how important life is. I was lucky enough to get reinstated to my position as an umpire, and I realize how lucky all Americans are to be part of the greatest country on earth. And I promise that as long as I'm able, Merle Haggard's words in a song are what I'll live by: 'When [they're] running down my country, man, [they're] walking on the fightin' side of me.'"
Oakland's Jason Giambi won the American League Most Valuable Player Award the season before.
"I was like everybody else," Giambi said. "I just sat at home. The world kind of stopped. I was shocked and surprised. I really just couldn't believe it. I remembered when we came back we ended up playing the Yankees in the playoffs. We visited a lot of firehouses. The games really helped get us through those trying times. I don't think it will ever be forgotten. It will be remembered, because it was the sport that was being played at that time. We were the first ones back, so I think baseball will always be remembered as that, the sport that kind of helped everybody heal."
|"People always look at us as being heroes, and to have an opportunity to meet those families and firefighters and EMS workers, those were the true heroes at the time."|
|-- Derek Jeter|
Will George's assignment for the Colorado Rockies that day was to drive to Baltimore from his home in South Jersey and cover the Orioles game that night. On his way, George was going to stop at BWI Airport and pick up another scout, Tom Giordano, who was flying in from Long Island.
"The shock of it was that they said two of the planes had left out of the New York metropolitan area, and I knew he was in the air at the time, so naturally I was really, really concerned," George said. "His plane ended up getting grounded in Philly, and when he called me, he said, 'Yeah, they told us we're going to be on the ground for a little bit and then they're going to let us go.' I said, 'You ain't going nowhere.' He had no idea what was going on. I went and picked him up. It was a Tuesday morning, and he stayed at my house until the following Saturday."
Scouts are constantly on the go, and travel has certainly become more difficult since then, George said. Other changes were less permanent.
"I thought for a while it brought our country together, but that seems long forgotten now," George said.
The hometown kid
Doug Glanville grew up in Teaneck, N.J.
"Six miles from the George Washington Bridge," Glanville said. "Every time we'd drive down the turnpike, I'd see the World Trade Center. I'd been in the building. I remember meeting my cousin there at their gym. It was always just part of the landscape when I was growing up."
The events of 9/11 impacted everybody. For some, like Glanville, it literally hit home.
At the time, Glanville was the starting center fielder for a Phillies team that was in Atlanta, ready to begin a crucial three-game series against the Braves. At least, it seemed crucial at the time. He was also the team's player representative, intimately involved in discussions about when play should resume.
"So many lost lives and how it shook our entire world," Glanville. "We were trying to do what we do, which is play baseball. I just remember the conflict in deciding if we should play, when we should play in terms of resuming. Everything was so uncertain and everybody was so fearful about the possibility of what could happen next.
"I agreed with the idea that baseball could heal, but we also wanted to make sure if we needed to have some perspective first or just digest it. To respect the lost lives and see what possibly could be next, because we were playing sporting events with thousands of people congregating. That seemed pretty dicey given the possibility of another strike.
"So that was a concern, but we also did think it was compelling, the idea of giving people something to enjoy, the American experience, the national pastime."
As it turned out, the Phillies' game against the Braves, this time at Veterans Stadium, was the first to get started when play resumed. Cameras caught the tears in manager Larry Bowa's eyes during the national anthem. Glanville singled in his first at-bat. Afterwards, Glanville asked for and was given one of the commemorative bases that were used, and he had all his teammates sign it. It remains a treasured memento.
Glanville notes that people accepted some loss of privacy in return for increased security, and he believes that's one reason some players are so comfortable using social media.
"There's something special about baseball," Glanville said. "It's about hope and daily life. Playing 162 games is daily life. Getting after it and still being able to show up to work in the face of these tragedies and these issues. Caring for the next person. The team became family in the sense of wanting to know how everyone was doing. I thought that was transformational. I thought baseball rose to the occasion to become a beacon of hope and possibility and resilience and perseverance."
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter remembers being discomfited by the adulation he and his teammates players got when they visited those who were coping with the crisis.
"Because we're baseball players," Jeter said. "People always look at us as being heroes, and to have an opportunity to meet those families and firefighters and EMS workers, those were the true heroes at the time. What do you say to them? It was an uncomfortable position for me. It probably benefited us probably even more so than the families themselves, because we had an opportunity to hear how much we meant to these families and giving them something to cheer for at least three hours a day. It was an experience that I'll always remember, but it was uncomfortable.
"I understand that we're looked up to as being a hero by some people, but what I meant was those are the real heroes that really deserved to be looked at placed on a pedestal."
Dave Van Horne, who would win the 2011 Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in baseball broadcasting, was having coffee at home with Tommy Hutton, who is both his neighbor and fellow announcer for the Marlins. "The Today Show" was on the kitchen television.
"And all of a sudden, our eyes were riveted to the screen when we saw what was happening in New York," Van Horne said. "Tommy went home and I sat just mesmerized, watching in shock, as people around the world did. I never gave baseball a thought all through that day.
"It wasn't long after that, though, that all of us who were in the game [became] very proud of the role that baseball played once they returned to the field. I was happy that baseball was able to do that -- as it always has in times of war, in hard times or times of strife. Baseball has always played a great role in helping the nation heal."
The director of team travel
Every team faced travel challenges while play was suspended. The Phillies worked out in Atlanta then were given the go-ahead to move on to Cincinnati, where the next series was scheduled to be played.
The two team buses got as far as a truck stop in Tennessee when the Phils learned that the weekend games had been postponed as well. But the drivers already had been on the job too long to legally take the traveling party the rest of the way home. So everybody encamped in Cincinnati that night to plot their next move.
Frank Coppenbarger was in charge of that and countless other details.
"Like everybody else in the country, we had to make a lot of changes -- effective immediately," Coppenbarger said. "And it's changed the way the team travels ever since. It used to be that when there was a charter flight, you didn't have to worry about security or anything like that. You just went right to the plane. Now we either go through security at the airport or they bring the security to the ballpark and screen everyone. Security at the ballpark and the hotel. Our whole world's different now because of it."
After one night in Cincinnati, Coppenbarger found a flight to finally bring the team home. It was one of the first planes in the air after 9/11.
Bud Selig has steered baseball through many crises during his tenure, although none as harrowing as 9/11.
This year, baseball will once again mark the anniversary with flag patches on caps, special lineup cards and base jewels and pregame ceremonies. And here the Commissioner is once again setting the tone.
"All of us within Major League Baseball made a solemn promise after Sept. 11, 2001: We Shall Not Forget," Selig said last year. "When I look back on those days once play had resumed, it gives me pride that the national pastime provided fans with some moments of normalcy and joy.
"I am very proud of the efforts throughout Major League Baseball to remember and to commemorate, and like all Americans, it is my great hope that acts of kindness and service will renew the spirit of unity that resonated in our nation after Sept. 11."