Baseball — a metaphor for America

| 15 Feb 2012 | 09:17

    Over the past two weeks, we have seen, heard and perhaps even felt the stories of Sept. 11, that horrible, tragic day when America — and the world — were changed forever. As Americans and as human beings, the painful memories from Sept. 11, 2001 won’t ever leave us, nor should they ever. To me, one of the most profound things I saw — the day after Sept. 11, 2011, just last week — was a newspaper photo of a man kneeling at the bronze wall at Ground Zero, where all the names of those killed that day are listed. He was mourning the loss of his son, who had been among the 3,000 or so people that day whose lives were snuffed out by the a diabolical act of terrorism. For that man and the many thousands of surviving relatives of those killed, I will not dare speak, for only they alone can really tell us how they feel about what the last 10 years of their lives have been like without their loved ones. But for me, there is another memory of that period 10 years ago that actually contained for America a ray of hope, a highly-emotional release of energy that gave us reason to believe that our country would indeed fight back and learn, once again, that our nation could triumph over evil. That occurred on the night of Friday, Sept. 21, 2001 when the first sporting event in New York and its surrounding metropolitan area after Sept. 11 took place. It was at old Shea Stadium, in Flushing Meadows, Queens. The New York Mets played host to the Atlanta Braves, a game attended by more than 41,000 people, including, but not limited to, the likes of then-Mayor Rudolph Guilliani, Diana Ross and Liza Minelli, who sang “It’s up to you, New York” prior to the game. There were also countless numbers of city police and firefighters on hand, many of whom were in mourning for the heavy losses their brave ranks had sustained 10 days earlier. In radio recollections by great broadcasters such as Howie Rose and Mike Francesa, Shea was unusually quiet much of that night in an eerie sort of way. But in the bottom of the eighth inning, with his team trailing by a 2-1 margin, Mets catcher Mike Piazza went to home plate and blasted a “monstrous drive over the center-field fence,” in the words of an AP reporter, that brought the Mets an eventual 3-2 victory. The victory — while it kept the surging Mets still within reach of what would be an unsuccessful attempt to return to post-season play — was nice enough. But that home run, one that will continue to grow higher and higher in historical significance, resulted in a sudden cacophony of sound, a tremendous eruption of the Shea crowd that included tears, smiles, hugs and high fives. It was as if a sudden infusion of magic had made its way into those in attendance that night. Piazza, now retired but certain to be a Hall of Famer soon, said that night: “If the season ends tomorrow, we’re all winners because we didn’t give up.” Indeed, that home run gave many a reason to cheer and show wide ranges of emotion that will never be forgotten. It gave an entire city and nation a chance to begin what will remain as a slow healing process, one that is still ongoing today. Over the next 10 years, America would go to war in two nations and eventually kill the monster most responsible for the horror of Sept. 11, among other things. But that night, when Mr. Piazza hit that home run, the healing process began for many. And to anyone who attended that game or saw it on TV, or, like me, heard it on radio, it will go down as one of the greatest blows for freedom ever struck. It was, without question, a reason to start healing, to start living again. Long live America and our brave men and women in uniform all over the world. And long live Mr. Piazza and the game of baseball for its true meaning: of redemption and of triumph — at a time when all of us needed it.