On a cloudless mid-September day in 2001, everything changed. It was one of those moments that those alive then and now remember by knowing exactly what they were doing at the time they learned the news. It seems like many lifetimes ago, yet the tragic and horrific events of September 11, 2001 happened a short 18 years ago. Other generations had Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the lunar landing, the space shuttle Challenger explosion and ours has September 11th.
In the years since, my mind often wanders and strains at the thought of remembering a pre-9/11 world. Things seemed a lot more simple then – people seemed to maybe get along more. Of course, it’s very easy to look at things through rose-colored lenses and nostalgia plays a big part. This year though, my mind has wandered to a different, more uplifting, and tangible moment that I remember vividly.
On September 21, 2001, the New York Mets hosted the hated divisional rival Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium in what was the first professional sports event in New York City following the terrorist attacks of that fateful September day 10 days prior. For years the Mets and the Braves faced off in heated contests, the rivalry was so intense that Braves All Star and Hall of Famer Chipper Jones, in what must surely be in a half-troll way, named his first born son Shea Jones after the stadium of the team that he so often tormented. September 21, 2001 was fundamentally different. The Mets lined up with hats of the various departments of first responder departments of New York City and there was palpable nervousness and sadness in the crowd, and among the teams as well. There were rumors swirling about that perhaps the terrorist attacks were not at an end and that perhaps that game itself was the next mass target.
The New York Mets, led by charismatic manager Bobby Valentine, were down by a score of 2-1 heading into the bottom of the 8th inning when Hall of Famer and Mets great Mike Piazza stepped up to the plate and clubbed a two-run home run to put the Mets up 3-2, which would be the final score of the game. That wasn’t just a home run for Mike Piazza, or for the Mets that were still chasing playoff possibilities. It was a home run for America.
Mike Piazza gave a lot of Mets fans glorious moments to remember over his illustrious tenure with the club but none quite so memorable as his game-winning home run against the Braves on September 21, 2001. For a split second, the sellout crowd at Shea was roaring and cheering and briefly, ever so briefly, everything seemed normal. Mike Piazza for one evening made New Yorkers and Americans generally forget the horrors of the events that transpired 10 days prior and gave them hope that one day, maybe not that day or even the next, normalcy would return to New York and the United States. On this September 11th, the 18th anniversary of one of the darkest days in western civilization’s history, I gave great thought to the New York Mets, Mike Piazza, and the power that sports has on the human imagination and how close it can bring us together.
We will never forget.