In light of the 13th anniversary of the tragic attack on the World Trade Center in New York, I felt it appropriate to refresh the memory of one of the happier moments to come from the fallout of 9/11. In the spirit of what Instagrammers and Tweeters would call “Throwback Thursday” or “#tbt,” I want to rewind 12 years and 355 days to the night game of the New York Mets against the Atlanta Braves.
It is the eighth inning with the Mets down 2-1 and their beloved Mike Piazza at the plate. He has already doubled twice in the game. Fingers are crossed. The ballpark is on edge to a point usually only a World Series Game 7 could bring it. Sure enough, Piazza sees a pitch he likes and crushes it over the center field fence to give New York a 3-2 lead.
The crowd erupts, and at first it is almost the same as a normal home run. The peanut guy yells “Aye, there’s Mikey.” The bench looks up hopefully at the crack of the bat, even though any longtime ballplayer knows by sound whether it is gone or not. But when watching the goosebump-inducing video, it takes only a few seconds for the crowd’s emotion to diffuse onto the field. One can see the embroidery on Piazza’s left arm; “9/11/01.” One begins to see the tears on troubled faces, the joy such a simple occurrence has brought them. People broke down. People hugged, people kissed, people fell to their knees in tears of joy over a single home run.
In retrospect, Mike Piazza hit a homer that healed New York, even though it was only momentarily. Although it gave only an inning’s reprieve from one of the most tragic events in American history, that home run mattered, even outside the world of ESPN.
As it cleared the fence over left-center, New York’s hope rose along with the famous Shea apple that rises with every home run hit by the Mets in their park. It could not bring people back to life. It could not take away the pain of a city of 8 million people, or crush the terror that is felt throughout the world because of acts similar to 9/11. But what it did do was unite New York and all of America. If ever there was a time for New York to rise and prove that its people could be the most resilient in the world, it was in the days after 9/11.
Sports can be bigger than stats, contracts, egos and even money. Sports can be bigger than the wins, the losses, the draws and the heated debates with referees and umpires. Sports have the ability to unite a hopeless people and provide common ground for those who feel alienated or lost. Sports can prove to a grieving population that there are people to stand up with, there are people to yell like a little kid with and, most importantly, there are people to break down and cry with. All it took to prove that was a wood-barrel bat, a seasoned vet and 400 feet over the left-center fence.
A version of this column appeared in the Thursday, Sept. 11 print edition. Email Bobby Wagner at [email protected]