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09/11/11 9:00 PM ET

In New York, Cubs remember 9/11 heroes

NEW YORK -- The Cubs didn't choose to be at Citi Field for the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but they had to feel the gravity of the moment on Sunday. Baseball, on this day, took a back seat to blending into a society still recovering from a scarred-over wound.

"It was a terrifying event. It was something very painful," said veteran Carlos Pena. "At the same time, I think it's time for us to remember. And not to focus on the terror. I'd like today to be a day where we focus on the fact that we were able to stand despite how hurt we were. That's why it's special. Today, we celebrate that strength in the midst of pain, in the midst of terror and in the midst of fear.

"It was arguably the most difficult moment that this country has ever experienced. ... I'm from the Dominican Republic and I came here when I was 14 years old, but I feel very much a part of what this country represents. And that day brought us together instead of weakening us."

The nation was brought together again Sunday in a day of remembrance, a multi-faceted event that began early in the morning at Ground Zero and culminated in the pregame ceremony at Citi Field. Several Cubs were out and about this weekend, which gave them a unique view of Manhattan.

Reed Johnson, for instance, took a walk to St. Patrick's Cathedral on Sunday, where many of the city's service personnel had stopped to pay their respects. One day earlier, Johnson said, he had been forced to wait on a subway platform for 45 minutes due to a specific security concern.

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But that's just part of America after 9/11, he said, and not something that alarmed him.

"It's changed quite a bit, with airport security," said Johnson. "And especially in this city, things are really magnified. Things will never be the same. You feel pretty safe with the way security is run. You see all the different checkpoints and I think it makes the people feel more safe."

"It's different than other years," added Rodrigo Lopez. "There's a lot of rumors in the air. I saw a little bit on the TV while I was working out about the checkpoints in the city. And I've gotten a lot of phone calls from people I know around the country -- and also from Mexico -- about today. It's kind of weird. But honestly, I thought it was going to be more quiet tonight on the streets. I woke up this morning and walked around 5th Avenue and Central Park, and it looked pretty normal to me."

And in that respect, the anniversary was just like the day it meant to evoke. Sept. 11, 2001, had started as a flawless day, weather-wise, a figurative calm before an inconcievable storm. For many -- Pena and Lopez included -- the memory of that day may never fade away.

"I was just a young player who had just been called up probably three or four days before it happened. The country was paralyzed," said Pena. "I was across the whole United States -- over there on the West Coast -- and we were about to play Oakland. We didn't because play ceased for a few days, and then a few days later we were back on track. But what a moment. It didn't look real at first. It was very rough, but what I want to focus on is remembering the lives that were lost that day, the lives that were sacrificed. And the people that sacrificed their own lives, I think we honor them today."

Lopez, just two years older than Pena, told his anecdote from a fairly different viewpoint.

"I was in Mexico, and I remember my dad woke me up and put the TV on," he said. "I saw the first tower in smoke, and pretty much we saw live the second airplane crash. I started feeling chills, and thought, 'Oh my God, this is not an accident.' I started feeling fear, and I was in Mexico. ... Everybody has unique stories, and they say it's been 10 years. But it feels like last year."

Chicago started a unit that averaged 26 years old on Sunday, which meant that several of the players involved were in high school on the morning of 9/11. Pena, one of just two Sunday starters over 30 years old, said that the lessons of the day should be fairly evident regardless of age.

"We go out there and we hit home runs or make a pitch, and people clap for us and get excited about the fact that we're winning a baseball game," he said. "But we have to tip our hats and bow our heads when we think about the policemen and the firemen, all the men in uniform that really risked their lives for others that day. Those are the true heroes, and we're never going to kid ourselves.

"Sometimes, when difficulties land upon us, that's when true character is revealed. ... It was so impressive to see the unity and the courage that we saw as a city and as a country."

Chicago manager Mike Quade had been in New York in October 2001 as a coach for Oakland, a surreal point in time that he said he'll never forget as long as he lives. Prior to Sunday's ceremony, Quade said that he'd like to have his players on the top step of the dugout.

"We'll be out here at 7:40," he said of his team's interest level. "They've got to get ready, but of course I would encourage them. I don't think much encouragement is needed."

At least one player -- Lopez, who will start on Monday -- had specific sanction to miss the ceremony, and that was due to game-related circumstances that fell far outside of his control.

"I'm pitching tomorrow, so I'm going to leave early," said Lopez. "I've got to go to the airport and fly on 9/11. I think about the security and whether it's going to be a long line, but I don't worry about it too much. Everybody's going to be OK."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.