Mets, Yanks honor 9/11 as 'one unified NY'

September 12th, 2021

NEW YORK -- Dressed in his Yankees road grays with the words “NEW YORK” stitched across the chest, Anthony Rizzo draped his arm around his former Cubs teammate Javier Báez, who stood next to him in a crisp white Mets uniform that also featured the city’s name. Francisco Lindor hugged his best friend, Gio Urshela. Michael Conforto embraced Luke Voit as the Citi Field crowd voiced its approval.

Such was the scene early Saturday evening, 20 years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, when the Mets and Yankees took the field together in a show of what public address announcer Marysol Castro described as “one unified New York.” The scene echoed the night of Sept. 21, 2001, at Shea Stadium, when the Mets and Braves embraced on the field in the first sporting event in New York following the tragedy.

It was also a poignant reminder of how important this date remains to New Yorkers.

“I don’t think it really gets any easier as the years go on,” Hall of Famer Mike Piazza, a star of the 2001 Mets, said earlier in the day. “I’ve heard time sort of has a healing effect, but for me, especially when this date comes by every year, it is difficult to kind of look back. The images for me -- and for, I’m sure, a lot of people -- are still very vivid in their minds. I think it’s a wonderful thing that we do continue to honor them on this day.”

It was amidst that backdrop, and in front of the largest crowd at Citi Field in more than two years, that the Mets held a powerful pregame ceremony. First responders joined the men and women of various 9/11-related nonprofit organizations on the field, as well as more than a dozen members of the 2001 Mets. At regular intervals throughout the ceremony, fans chanted “U-S-A” in unison, putting aside any ties to their respective boroughs as they all focused on what they had in common.

Those civic ties are what prompted the Mets to redesign their uniforms for the night, stitching the block letters “NEW YORK” onto their home jerseys for the first time in franchise history. Players wore caps from various first-responder organizations, including the FDNY, NYPD, Port Authority Police Department, Department of Sanitation and Department of Correction, much as they did in 2001.

All the usual pomp and circumstance was present as well, including snare drums, bagpipes and renditions of “America the Beautiful” and the national anthem.

“It’s been kind of good and bad,” another 2001 Mets player, Edgardo Alfonzo, said of the day. “We’re trying to give the people the best we can give to them. Because they deserve it.”

The ceremony continued with a mini documentary about Piazza’s Sept. 21 home run, which so many fans credit for helping the city heal in the aftermath of 9/11. That homer largely defines the legacy of Piazza, despite everything else he accomplished during a career that led him to Cooperstown.

“It’ll always be with me,” Piazza said. “It’ll be on my Hall of Fame plaque even when I’m gone, so my kids and grandkids will be able to go and remember it and look back and see it, and hopefully they can put it in context, and they can understand.

“I’ve been blessed to have a few home runs and some big home runs that Mets fans recall and remember, but I think, and I’ve heard it said so eloquently by others, that even though the game really didn’t have playoff implications -- it wasn’t a postseason game, it wasn’t a World Series game -- it had bigger effect and bigger emotional value from all the fans and all the people in the city.”

To cap the ceremony, 2001 Mets and Yankees managers Bobby Valentine and Joe Torre threw out ceremonial first pitches as the crowd once again roared its approval. Earlier in the weekend, Valentine recalled the “fear” he had in his heart following the Sept. 11 attacks -- not just fear of further violence, but fear that he and his team were doing the wrong things to help in the wake of tragedy. Eventually, that feeling faded as Valentine realized the impact that he, the Mets, the Yankees and so many others had on comforting those in need.

It is a process that continues to this day.

“I don’t think it gets any easier as the years go by,” Piazza said. “But the positive effect is that you see a lot of outpouring of love and affection -- the same sentiments that I think we had after the attacks in the city. So unfortunately, you do have to experience tragedy to see triumph and see courage and bravery. So as much as I’m sad to see and remember the sad events, it’s still uplifting to continue to reflect on the positive stories that did come out of that week. But it doesn’t really get much easier.”