By Dan Schlossberg
Tomorrow is not only September 11 but the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that took down four planes, two World Trade Center towers, and a piece of the Pentagon.
The impact was immediate — both upon the country, the New York/New Jersey region closest to Ground Zero, and upon the baseball world.
America’s National Game shut down for a week, pushing its postseason schedule into November for the first time.
People of all political and religious persuasions came together in an air of solidarity that superseded the usual hostility.
Even on the diamond, players came together.
In the first game played in New York after the week-long delay, Mike Piazza hit a two-run, eighth-inning home run that enabled the Mets to beat the Atlanta Braves, 4-3.
After that game, Chipper Jones told writers in the Atlanta clubhouse that it was the only time in his career that he didn’t mind losing a game.
He said New York needed a win — anything to boost morale that had hit bottom in all corners of the country.
A month later, baseball gave America another psychological lift when President George W. Bush threw out the first ball at the World Series in Yankee Stadium.
Politics aside, that was an act of bravery we have never witnessed from another president. After practicing his throwing in the bowels of the fabled ballpark, Bush strode to the mound in a Yankees jacket and delivered a perfect strike.
Unknown to the millions who watched on television, one of the umpires on the field with him was actually a heavily-armed Secret Service agent.
Both life and baseball would never be normal again but both would continue, just as they did when Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote his famous “Green Light” letter of 1942, saying baseball should continue as a national morale booster — even though most of its best players would trade their jerseys for military fatigues over the next four years.
I attended both games — the Piazza game and the Bush game — and must confess that I was nervous as a fan. Nobody knew whether the massive security plans for both events would be sufficient or whether the terrorists who pulled off 9/11 with impunity would try again with a bigger audience watching.
That great unknown still exists, especially with tomorrow’s anniversary and the all-too-fresh attack on U.S. troops departing from Afghanistan.
Baseball is there to take our minds off such things, at least for a few hours at a time.
As Bill Veeck once said, “The game should be savored and not gulped.”
In times that remain difficult and uncertain for a variety of reasons, that statement could not be more on point.
In concocting the 2021 schedule, MLB managed to think ahead — and schedule the Mets to host the Yankees at CitiField on that somber day.
Former AP newsman Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is weekend editor of Here’s The Pitch and baseball writer for forbes.com, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, Ball Nine, and Latino Sports. The author of 38 baseball books, Dan can be reached at email@example.com.
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