Seven years ago today, the United States changed forever. In a few short hours, this country became a very different place to live, and our priorities as citizens of this Country changed as well. The word ‘hero’ received a new definition and every neighborhood block had dozens of American flags instead of just one. Relationships with loved ones supplanted professional ambition and a hug became the most important thing in the world. Personal feelings were discussed more often and mentioning God in public was once again acceptable. So many things changed that horrid day, including the game of baseball. Baseball has always been America’s pastime, but with the explosion of the NFL combined with the popularity of college athletics, many Americans chose to follow sports other than baseball. Though baseball had taken a great slide following the strike of ’94, the game had since recovered and was once again very popular. There were many great storylines to the 2001 season as there are to any season in baseball, but after 9/11, the role of baseball in America changed. It was no longer just a sport, but it was we stood for, above all, it was OUR game.
Members of both the New York Mets and New York Yankees put down their bats and gloves and became regular members of a shattered city. They helped organize supplies, pass out food, and console other individuals. There are so many stories of certain athletes visiting firehouses or inviting families of the deceased to Shea Stadium or Yankee stadium. There many testimonials from people claiming that a phone call from Derek Jeter or a hug from Bernie Williams gave them more hope than they ever thought possible.
We sometimes forget that baseball players are human beings like everyone else. They can be affected emotionally just like you and I. The Yankees and Mets were members of New York City and did everything they could to help get through the tragedy. However, their greatest gift to the city during that torrid time was to simply lace up their cleats and play ball. I know many Mets fans who still point to Mike Piazza’s homerun as the moment that life started to feel normal again. As the Yankees made their yearly playoff push, people were able to stop mourning for a few hours a day and just watch baseball.
About a month after 9/11, as the United States began fighting a war in Afghanistan, the baseball playoffs started, and all of a sudden, the phrase, “The Hunt for October” had a new meaning. During the day, the television and papers were full of coverage from Afghanistan while the world was educated on Al Queda and Osama Bin Laden. However, at night, that ended and baseball took center stage. For three or four hours time stood still and we all were able to forget about the new world around us. Night would become day and the cycle would begin again, but as every day passed, the day hurt a little less and the night was ever more exciting.
As the World Series began, the hated Yankees had become America’s team and a column in an Arizona paper begged the question, “Arizona against America?” If there was ever any year that it would be acceptable for the Yankees to win the World Series, this was the year. In my opinion, baseball is the greatest game in the world, and never has the greatest game’s biggest series been on a bigger stage with so much hanging on every pitch. Seven games, walk off homeruns, clutch hits, massive emotions and the President of the United States. George W. Bush confidently strolled to the mound before Game 3 at Yankee Stadium and stood on the rubber with his right arm high in the air giving thumbs up to everyone. He then calmly reached back and fired a strike over the plate. A lot has changed since then, but for a brief time, everyone who witnessed that moment was proud. We all know how that Series ended and though the mighty Yankees were unable to pull out the victory for their fans and their city, they earned the greatest victory of all by just playing baseball.
A lot has changed since 9/11, and many can argue whether it has been for the better or not. I am not here to wax political, but to tell you that this country’s love of baseball and need for baseball is stronger than ever. It is the one thing in which Democrats and Republicans can agree. The game is so beautiful and so pure, it is poetic and philosophical, as well as heartbreaking and joyous.
Baseball is at the crux of this country and never has that been more evident than during the days, weeks and months following September 11th. Seven years later, this may be the only thing that has not changed.
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God Bless America!