NEW YORK -- The tragic events of 9/11 occurred 22 years ago this Monday, claiming nearly 3,000 lives -- 2,753 at the World Trade Center alone. Members of the 2001 Mets have never forgotten that day that still deeply impacts America, especially those in New York.
“I remember so vividly what it was like to be a New Yorker at that time,” Zeile said. “As a guy who was here and came down [to Ground Zero] days after, I was [angry] about what had happened.
“At the same time, I was empathetic to the loss, certainly, but also to what we knew was a lifetime of ripples and repercussions. When I say that, I mean fathers that lost two sons, kids who lost their fathers. This is one bad, tragic day, but we are going to be looking back on this as something that had an impact on [many] people for the rest of our lives.”
Franco remembers the event like it was yesterday. The Mets were in Pittsburgh getting ready to play the Pirates when Franco received a call from Donald Fehr, who was then the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, informing him that the game was canceled because of the events at the World Trade Center, Pentagon and nearby Pittsburgh.
“At first, we thought it was a small plane. And then watching TV and seeing what transpired and what was going on, we knew it wasn’t a small plane,” Franco said. “I remembered the ride coming from Pittsburgh. All the guys were on the bus. It was a normal bus ride, but once we got to the George Washington Bridge, we saw Ground Zero, smoke and bright lights. Everybody on the left side of the bus went over to the right side of the bus. You didn’t hear a sound [on the bus] the rest of the way from the GW to Shea Stadium.”
For Zeile, it’s hard to believe that the attack occurred more than two decades ago. He recalled the first game the Mets played at Shea Stadium after 9/11. It was 10 days after the tragic events, and Mike Piazza highlighted the scoring with the game-winning homer in a 3-2 victory over the Braves. But Zeile recalls the pomp and circumstance before and during the game.
“I remember the families of the first responders on the field,” he said. “I remember the sounds of the bagpipes. I remember Liza Minelli in the seventh inning singing ‘New York, New York.’ That was the one moment to me that had the greatest impact on my memory bank. We were seven innings into that game. It was the first time I felt like we and the crowd effectively had permission to sort of celebrate.
“Even though we were celebrating … about the pride of New York, there was something that brought smiles to the faces. That moment for me was the one I remember most vividly. Mike’s home run was the icing on the cake. That was the way it was supposed to end. ”
By the end of the visit, Zeile and Franco thanked the firefighters for the job they do on a regular basis. The 2001 team often pays a visit to the firehouse to see how the firefighters are doing and talk about their love for the Mets and Yankees.
“The Mets have done this since 9/11,” said John Esposito, the chief of fire operations. “This is the third visit they are doing this year. We were out in Queens with some of the Mets and Mariners. The week before, we were in Brooklyn with Mike Piazza. We want to thank the Mets for their great support they have given us all these years.”