Friday, September 11, 2009

The Yankees provided post-9/11 New York with something to feel good about

Sports seemed irrelevant to me in the aftermath of 9/11. I had no interest discussing whether the Yankees were going to hold off the Red Sox in the American League East. I could care less if Rob Johnson was ever going to resemble an NFL quarterback.

But in the weeks following the terrorist attacks, I witnessed first-hand how sports could be relevant during a troubled time, how it could have a galvanizing effect on a wounded city. I saw how the 2001 World Series provided New Yorkers with a brief respite from the awful realities at Ground Zero, gave them something to cheer about, something positive to rally around.
At my son Christopher's urging, we journeyed to Yankee Stadium for Game 3 of the Series, the first of three contests to be played in The House That Ruth Built that autumn. As we honor the eighth anniversary of an event that changed America forever, I’m re-running the essay I wrote about the experience a father and son shared on a poignant late October night in the South Bronx that seems like only yesterday.

A night at the World Series won't be forgotten (Nov. 1, 2001)

NEW YORK - My son Christopher greeted the purchase of two World Series tickets with a gleeful leap that would have made Derek Jeter proud.

My wife wasn't nearly as gung-ho.

With the warning that a new wave of terrorist attacks might occur at any time, she was deeply concerned, as was I, that Tuesday's World Series game at packed Yankee Stadium before a national television audience would be a prime target.

It was only after
Christopher, a sometimes wise-beyond-his-years 11-year-old, convinced us not to give into fear that she reluctantly agreed to let us go.

As we drove from Rochester to the south Bronx on Tuesday, I felt many emotions. A part of me was euphoric because I realized that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience - one of those unforgettable moments between a father and a son. I wanted so much for it to be like one of those MasterCard commercials: priceless.

But a part of me also was a tad apprehensive. Was I doing the right thing? Or was I jeopardizing the welfare of my child and myself?

The longer I drove, the better I felt. I knew that with President Bush throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, and with security at the stadium and above it beefed up, the old ballpark at the corner of 161st and River Avenue might just be the safest place in America.

Crossing the George Washington Bridge from New Jersey into New York, I pointed to the Empire State Building in midtown, then to the tip of Manhattan where the Twin Towers once stood.
Christopher’s eyes were transfixed. After parking in the Yankee Stadium garage, we took the No. 4 train to Wall Street, just blocks from Ground Zero.

The subway cars were stuffed with workers and students, and that was good to see, because it told Christopher
and me that, despite the atrocities of Sept. 11, New Yorkers were forging on as best they could.

Emerging from the subway tunnel, we were greeted by an indescribable odor and a dusty haze that seared our nostrils and made our eyes watery and red. The area within four blocks of the crumpled skyscrapers was cordoned off, but we could hear the roar of cranes, dump trucks and bulldozers.
After walking the streets for about 30 minutes, we boarded the No. 4 uptown to Yankee Stadium.

I doubt either of us will ever forget that pungent odor. As one of the subway passengers told us: “That was the smell of death.’’

The atmosphere at the Stadium was slightly more subdued than for previous World Series games I had attended. There seemed to be as many cops as fans, but that was OK with me.

I bought my son a sweatshirt and a program, and we tailgated at our car, before walking through metal detectors and heading for our seats near the top row of the upper deck on the first-base side.
The game was tightly contested and quite entertaining. To my son's delight, Roger Clemens pitched brilliantly and the slumping Scott Brosius delivered a clutch hit to lead the Yankees to a 2-1 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

But those won't be the lasting memories. Years from now, I'll remember seeing President George Bush throw out the first pitch to thundering chants of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" I'll remember joining 56,000 other spectators in the singing of God Bless America during the seventh inning stretch. I'll remember my eyes welling as Yankee Stadium played host to the world's biggest choir. I'll remember how the tears were not caused by the frigid wind.

Driving across the GW Bridge on the way home, I stole a glance at the Empire State Building, which had been lighted in Yankees blue, and at my son, who was asleep in the back seat. I thanked God for keeping us safe and for giving us the opportunity to share this special time.
I recalled a sign I had seen at the Stadium. It read: THE USA WILL NOT GIVE INTO FEAR - PLAY BALL!

It sounded like something my occasionally wise-beyond-his-years son would have told me.

1 comment:

Joe Territo said...

Great, great article Scott! Thanks for making it available again.
Joe T