Twenty years ago, the unimaginable happened in New York City.
The tragic events of Sept. 11 forever changed the world that we live in, as countless Americans lost friends and family members in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as on Flight 93.
As the rescue efforts at Ground Zero unfolded, the city – and the rest of the country — was left with questions: How could this happen? How do we move forward? Where do we turn in such a time of crisis?
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While there was no way to ever completely fill the void and the sense of loss left by that day, it was the game of baseball that helped America return to some sense of normalcy.
In 9/11: The Mets Remember, members of the 2001 Mets share their stories of the aftermath of one of the greatest tragedies in American history, telling SNY how the game of baseball – and one home run in particular – provided a moment of togetherness and hope that the city, and the country, so desperately needed.
“It was paramount for baseball to resume”
The 2001 MLB season was immediately put on hold following the attacks of Sept. 11. At the time, Mets players and coaches were focused on everything but the game of baseball …
AL LEITER: "I was mad. I think I had every gamut of emotion, from being pissed off to sad to being scared, every single possible emotion that you can imagine. I did think initially that playing a baseball game just seemed so irrelevant completely, considering what had just took place and how the world was very fragile and the uncertainty of the next attack.”
MIKE PIAZZA: “The conversations were just basic about family and love and relationships. It wasn’t about baseball because baseball slipped somewhere into the insignificant stage at that time. A lot was just supporting each other and trying to help each other be strong for our community, because we did feel a lot of people at that time were starting to look to us for some sort of leadership or some sort of inspiration or some sort of example of strength.”
BOBBY VALENTINE: “I guess about four days into it, maybe on the 15th, talk about resuming the season came up. Basically, the word from the White House was that it was paramount for baseball to resume.”
“People just wanted to be together”
On Sept. 17, 2001, the MLB season resumed with six games, including the Mets taking on the Pirates in Pittsburgh, not far from where Flight 93 crash landed. Following the conclusion of that series, the Mets returned home for a game against the Atlanta Braves on Sept. 21. The game was the first professional sporting event held in New York City since the attacks 10 days earlier …
JOHN FRANCO: “It felt like someone just kicked you right between the legs, punched you in the stomach. It was a blow, you know? This is my city. I grew up here. I was hurt. We were hurting. Even Mike Piazza had tears in his eyes, guys had tears in their eyes. We all had tears in our eyes. It was very sad. It was very, very sad, that’s for sure.”
VALENTINE: “It was almost like the feeling of a funeral before the game, that everyone was there to show their respect, but they didn’t really know how to act.”
CHIPPER JONES: “The New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves, through the years we were fierce rivals, we didn’t like each other very much. But that night, it was about baseball, but it was more about trying to start the healing process.”
PIAZZA: “I felt like aside from the results of the game, people just wanted to be together and those who had lost loved ones knew that there was nothing that would ever replace them, but on a smaller note, if I had been lost I would want my family to try to move on and live life, because life is precious and life is for the living.”
“It’s okay to cheer”
As the game rolled on, there was an eerie sense throughout Shea Stadium, with fans unsure of how to react to what they were watching. But during the seventh inning stretch, Liza Minnelli performed "New York, New York," with fans standing and singing arm-in-arm and embracing each other as they sang about their hometown.
TODD ZEILE: “I think that seventh inning was the most emotional part of the whole day. I think it was the thing that probably bonded the team with New York. It also, I think it played a big role in allowing the crowd to feel like it’s okay to cheer.
“That was the pinnacle, I think, for us, and I think gave us in the Mets uniforms a little extra boost to get to where we were sort of destined to go.”
“It turned on the light, it illuminated us”
As the game moved into the bottom of the eighth inning, the Braves held a 2-1 lead. But with a man on and Steve Karsay on the mound, Piazza delivered one of the most memorable moments in Mets history, launching a two-run homer to left-center for what proved to be so much more than a game-winning home run.
PIAZZA: “Walking up, I did have an amazing sense of calm and perception as far as feeling that people were supporting me.”
STEVE KARSAY: “Mike came up, I threw a pretty good pitch on the outer half for strike one. Tried to repeat that pitch and the ball leaked back a little bit out over the middle of the plate, and Mike put a good swing on it. I knew it was gone.”
HOWIE ROSE: “I just always looked at that home run as something way beyond the Mets and way beyond its significance in Mets history. I look at it as what it represented in the moment. That it was okay for us to exhale a little bit. And it wasn’t going to change those that we lost, it wasn’t going to get them back, but it turned on the light, it illuminated us.”
FRANCO: “For that three hours or whatever time that game was, we put a band-aid on a big wound. We helped the people forget for a couple of hours. But we’ll never forget, that’s for sure.”
PIAZZA: “It just an honor … the fact that so many people relate to it. It will always be with me. It’s on my Hall of Fame plaque, so it will be here long after I’m gone. I’ve been blessed. I hit over 400 home runs, and if that’s the only home run I’m remembered for, I’m fine by that, no question about it.”
This story originally appeared on SNY.TV