By Danielle McCartan (@CoachMcCartan)
BERGEN COUNTY, NEW JERSEY- September 11, 2001: a date that forever changed the landscape of the global community in which we live. 2,996 lives were lost in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. Millions of lives were changed forever. Immediately, first responders, including New York’s Finest and New York’s Bravest, rushed in to rescue survivors from the rubble, then to pull bodies from ground zero, and finally, to clean up the mess left behind. That evening, if the cable signal was not knocked out of your television set, you watched as then-President George W. Bush, from the oval office, delivered a resounding, four minute, 30 second speech to the free world. The entire nation, paralyzed with grief and sadness, stopped to listen:
Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. . . . Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror. The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge — huge structures collapsing have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger. These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong.
– Excerpt; Former President George W. Bush, 9/11/01
In the subsequent days, with all commercial flights grounded, the smoke from the World Trade Center was still visible from Jersey City, New Jersey, where my father drove my family to witness history. “This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace“, predicted President Bush. Like a phoenix rising from the burning embers, the United States of America rallied. There was an omnipresent sense of patriotism my thirteen-year-old self will never forget. American flags adorned houses, sidewalks, and the antennas on cars. People were proud to be American and were willing to inflict justice on the world. “America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time” (Bush).
On September 21, 2001, the New York Mets faced their bitter division rivals, the Atlanta Braves, in the first baseball game in New York since the heinous attacks that shook our nation to its core. The crowd of 41,235 intermittently chanted “U.S.A”: perhaps it was a medicine for healing. The players ditched their traditional caps in favor of ones that read: NYPD and FDNY. Stepping to the plate with one runner on-base in the bottom of the 8th inning, Mets catcher Mike Piazza, now a Hall of Famer, belted a pitch to the deepest part of Shea Stadium. The crisp, 70-degree September air carried the familiar sound of a wooden bat striking a baseball. The ball landed over the wall to give the mets a 3-2 lead (which they would not relinquish).
The eruption of cheers and celebration from the crowd indicated that it was much more than just a game. The resounding crack of Piazza’s bat, allowed citizens of the United States to feel again. Just like that, Piazza,the Mets, and the citizens of the United States of America were back on top again. Resounding, proud chants of “USA!” grew in volume until Piazza exited the dugout for a curtain call.
Joseph Bosco DeSerio, who was at the game and witnessed the home run in person, told me: “I stood up when [Piazza] hit it and threw my arms up. I opened my mouth to cheer but nothing came out because I couldn’t believe what I had just seen. I didn’t say anything until I joined in the ‘USA’ chant”.
“I was glad to come through and give these people something to cheer for at last,” Piazza told the New York Post that night. “That’s why they came out, to be diverted from the sorrow and the loss.”
Opposing Braves pitcher John Smoltz told ESPN: “It was like a game that wasn’t really a game. It was a healing. It was everything it turned out to be — great for the country, great for New York. Sports was irrelevant at that point, winning and losing. It was just an incredible day. It was surreal. And then when Piazza hit that home run, typically as a competitor you realize you’re going to lose that game. But it was magical. You didn’t even mind it for that moment.”
With that healing home run, belted in the shadows of Ground Zero, Piazza became forever endeared after restoring a sense of normalcy to a country that so desperately needed it.
Today marks the 15th anniversary of the attacks. Each and every year, Mets captain David Wright visits a New York firehouse affected by the terrorist attacks on 9/11 to pay his respects for its fallen. This year is an important one: most of today’s high school freshman were not even born in 2001.
On September 11, 2001, President Bush expressed: “America and our friends and allies join with all those who want peace and security in the world, and we stand together to win the war against terrorism. . . . None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world. Thank you. Good night. And God bless America.”