09/18/01 4:00 AM ET
Baseball proved to be therapeutic
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- Baseball did its part in the healing of a wounded nation Monday and went back to work.Following the financial markets in heeding President Bush's call for America to "get on about its life," baseball games resumed. They provided the country a welcome diversion from the grief and mourning that followed last Tuesday's terrorist attacks. "I think a lot of us needed this. I know I needed this," said William Patterson of Quakertown, NJ, attending the Atlanta-Philadelphia game. "I just needed something positive to take my mind off things." In six stadiums Monday, baseball provided something positive. "Despite heavy hearts, we've gotten out of the dirt, brushed ourselves off and we're hoping in some small way to inspire a nation to do the same thing," Dodgers Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully announced in a video address before the Dodgers-Padres game. "It's a bittersweet evening, but a first step toward normalcy." Even before the games started, players stood in stadium outfields elbow-to-elbow with local police and firefighters to unfurl giant American flags in emotional ceremonies honoring the memory of those who lost their lives last week and saluting emergency personnel who risked their lives to save them. Fans -- many draped in red, white and blue -- waved small flags and chanted "USA . . . USA." The traditional singing of the national anthem was accompanied by "God Bless America." Stadium organists played patriotic medleys. Flags were stitched onto the backs of player uniforms and caps. A moment of silence was held in memory of the victims. Generally, players were touched by the pregame ceremonies, but uneasy about returning to competition at a time of national crisis. "It was just real nice to see the fans and the flags out there, being patriotic and the seventh-inning stretch that we did," said Arizona pitcher Randy Johnson, who won his 19th game. "What you're seeing is the country coming together and there was no doubt that would happen. It's a very close-knit country and it's very tragic that something like this has to happen to see all of this." And when all that was done, the players took the field and played ball. Ending a six-day shutdown, six National League games were played Monday and the American League, where all four postseason slots are virtually locked up, resumes Tuesday. Emotions ran high in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Fans in Los Angeles were noisy and left typically early. In Colorado, players described the mood as subdued. The most meaningful game played Monday had nothing to do with a pennant race. The shaken New York Mets, their home game with the Pirates transferred to Pittsburgh because of the World Trade Center catastrophe, wore caps with the familiar initials NYPD and FDNY, a salute to the city's police and fire departments. The day before, Mets players visited victims in hospitals and manager Bobby Valentine stayed at Shea Stadium, an emergency staging area, until 3 a.m. loading supplies for transport to relief workers downtown. Monday, back in uniform, the Mets beat the Pirates, 4-1, with a ninth-inning rally. The heart and soul of the team, a relief worker of a different kind named John Franco, picked up the win on his 41st birthday. "We were just trying to do our jobs as good as we could do it," Valentine said. "That's what we get paid to do, and I think that's what our fans want us to do. We had good spirit in the dugout, and there was good focus on the mound." Debate had been lively about the timing of the resumption of play, which was ordered by Commissioner Bud Selig. "Mentally I think we were all pretty unstable on what was right and what was wrong and where we needed to be," said Phillies third baseman Scott Rolen, who homered twice in the Phillies' win over Atlanta. "This was a good one. I'm glad it's behind us right now and we can continue on. I'm glad the support was shown throughout the country. The whole game there was just a feeling on the ball field that I haven't had before. I can't explain it. Maybe tomorrow we'll go back to a little more normalcy." Said Colorado manager Buddy Bell, after the Rockies' loss to Arizona, "As the night wore on, I think we all realized this was something we needed to do, we should be here." Although the games went without a hitch, the players said these weren't normal games. Many described the early innings as "eerie." Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said there was "a mild sense of uncertainty." "The pregame was touching, and everybody enjoyed being part of it," said Padres reliever Trevor Hoffman, who saved San Diego's 6-4 win over Los Angeles. "But this didn't feel the same. Something is always in the back of your mind now. The flow of information has slowed down to the point where we're not glued to the TV for updates, so it's good if we can give the nation an outlet. But there's something there now, and it's hard to play the game the way it's meant to be played." Mortality has not been a traditional topic of clubhouse conversation, but it is now, as ballplayers realize they can become targets and victims like anyone else. For the first time in their careers, many had to produce picture-identification to gain entry into their stadiums. Security in ballparks was tightened throughout baseball. Backpacks, occasionally handed out as promotional items, now are banned. Bags are searched. In Los Angeles, police department bomb-sniffing dogs swept Dodger Stadium, including team clubhouses and the press box. "We've done everything we can without changing the fundamental nature of the event," said Sandy Alderson, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations. "Fans can have confidence that the ballpark has always been safe, and it's safer today than last week." On the field, pennant races that seemed so important a week earlier, then were rendered virtually meaningless even to the players involved, nudged back into the picture Monday. The Arizona Diamondbacks strengthened their grip on the National League West with a 4-3 win in Colorado, extending their lead over idle San Francisco to two games. The six-day stoppage allowed Arizona manager Bob Brenly to rework his rotation so Randy Johnson, Monday night's winner, could start five of the team's last 19 games. "It's hard to see what's going on in the world and jump back into the pennant race," said Arizona outfielder Luis Gonzalez. The Giants will pick up the season Tuesday night hosting Central Division leader Houston at Pac Bell Park, with Barry Bonds resuming his chase of Mark McGwire's single-season home run record of 70. With 18 games remaining, Bonds has 63 home runs, including three in his most recent game and six in his last seven games. San Francisco is now tied for the Wild Card lead with St. Louis, which edged Milwaukee, 2-1. San Francisco and St. Louis are two games ahead of the Chicago Cubs, who play Cincinnati Tuesday in Chicago. The Dodgers, who must end the season with nine consecutive road games when last week's games are made up, lost a home game Monday night, wasting 11 strikeouts in six innings from Kevin Brown in a 6-4 loss to San Diego. Padres starting pitcher Jason Middlebrook allowed two hits over six innings in his winning Major League debut. In the NL East, the Phillies cut into Atlanta's lead, now 2 1/2 games, with a 5-2 win over the Braves, as 15-game winner Robert Person outdueled 17-game winner Greg Maddux. "I've had a lot of games here and this was as emotional as I've ever been," said Phillies manager Larry Bowa. "I'm glad it's over and I'm glad we won. It was a tough game to get through." Attendance at the games ranged from a sparse gathering of 3,013 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal to 40,676 at Dodger Stadium, where the crowd took the pennant race seriously enough to boo losing reliever Chan Ho Park when he left the game with an Achilles strain. Dodger fans weren't alone. When Atlanta's Chipper Jones homered in the first inning at Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia fans did what their known for - they booed. "Yeah, they were coming back into their own," said Person, who gave up the homer. Tony Gwynn, playing in Los Angeles, said he was surprised at how normal the game seemed to him. There were even a few beach ball sightings. "The fans got into it when the Dodgers rallied, they booed me in the on-deck circle, and they left in the seventh inning like they always (do)," Gwynn said. "It's almost like they didn't miss a beat. Like a typical regular season game. "But now's the hard part. You leave the park, you turn on the radio and -- bam -- you're right back in it."
Ken Gurnick is a regional writer for MLB.com based in Los Angeles. Site reporters from MLB.com contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.