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Braves, Mets set to remember 9/11, honor USA

Ballclubs helped healing process 15 years ago with Piazza's monumental HR

As folks around the United States prepare this weekend to reflect upon the 9/11 tragedy, we're reminded of the role baseball played in the nation's healing process.

Baseball. Then again, it is our national pastime.

As folks around the United States prepare this weekend to reflect upon the 9/11 tragedy, we're reminded of the role baseball played in the nation's healing process.

Baseball. Then again, it is our national pastime.

So Atlanta's Turner Field will rank among the most appropriate places on Sunday to pay tribute to all of those heroes who surfaced before, during and after the collapse of Twin Towers. That means the Braves will host the Mets in more than just a game between National League East rivals. From a video tribute featuring the scroll of all 9/11 victims to a 21-gun salute with a flyover, the afternoon will function as a reminder of the game, when the bottom of the eighth inning on Sept. 21, 2001, in Shea Stadium became legend wrapped inside of emotion.

The Braves led, 2-1, with a Mets runner on base and future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza strolling to the plate.

Could he? Would he? Here was the only definite: Hearts still ached throughout New York City over that nightmare fewer than two weeks before, but American flags waved everywhere. Then came endless joy after Piazza ripped a home run over the center-field wall for what turned into the game-winner. Even Braves players forgot they were trying to hold off the Mets for the division title by responding later with smiles.

"I think it became evidently clear that people just wanted to cheer about something," Piazza said during an MLB Network documentary, in which he also mentioned his overwhelming feelings of woe before the game. "I remember looking up and praying to God, saying, 'Lord, please give me the strength to get through this, because I don't know if I can.' It's amazing, when you're in the right place and the right time, and you believe in yourself and you have a lot of people pulling for you, and you feel it."

Piazza was referring to his moment on Sept. 21. Even so, when it comes to Americans in general, you feel "it" big time regarding baseball, especially when "it" involves patriotism. There is a reason why the bunting in the ballparks of the World Series participants is red, white and blue.

It's a little thing, but it's another thing showing baseball's patriotic soul. Among the others, the "American" and the "National" Leagues have existed for more than 100 years. Of the 30 teams in the Majors, one is called the "Yankees," and another is the "Nationals." Nobody in professional or amateur sports has been more aggressive with their saluting of the armed forces than the Padres. In fact, in the past 21 years around military-heavy San Diego, they've honored America's fighting men in Southern California and elsewhere by wearing specially designed uniforms and caps. And former Cubs outfielder Rick Monday rescued that burning flag in center field of Dodger Stadium in 1976.

Video: MIA@LAD: Scully talks about Rick Monday

Here's something else: Guess wish pro sports league began playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at events? Yep. Baseball officials first used the national anthem during the 1918 World Series, and they made the whole practice mandatory for all games throughout World War II.

Which brings us to a conversation I had during the 1980s with the legendary Johnny Sain, then the 68-year-old pitching coach for the Braves. He was a rookie for the Boston Braves in '42, when the national anthem became a sacred ritual in Major League baseball.

"We had a war going on back then, so now whenever I hear `The Star-Spangled Banner,' the only thing I think about is the need to protect our great country," Sain said with teary eyes. "I also was in the Naval Air Corps, so I've heard the national anthem quite a few times. It adds dignity and class to the game. In fact, most people connect `The Star-Spangled Banner' to baseball. I don't know how everybody else thinks, but the song really means an awful lot to me."

If you go to the ballpark, and if you're not into the tune with words describing the War of 1812, there is always "God Bless America." The latter is played near the end of Major League games as the closer to "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the start.

We've also had a slew of baseball stars as military men, spanning from Joe DiMaggio to Willie Mays to Dusty Baker, the former outfielder and current Nationals manager who spent seven years in the U.S. Marines Corps Reserve. Bob Feller and Ted Williams are the biggest names in this category, and they join DiMaggio and Mays in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Feller's four years in the Navy led to his role as a World War II officer on the USS Alabama. Williams also served in World War II, but for the U.S. Navy and the Marines, and he was an accomplished Marine fighter pilot in the Korean War.

I haven't even mentioned the Braves and the Marlins became the first pro teams ever to play a regular-season game on a military base. It happened on July 3 in North Carolina at Fort Bragg.

Video: MLB makes history as Marlins meet Braves at Ft. Bragg

Now the Braves are doing their patriotic thing again Sunday with this 9/11 tribute involving the Mets. Five days after that, Atlanta will honor Constitution Day and Citizenship Day with a naturalization ceremony at Turner Field for 755 (Hank Aaron's career home run total) candidates for citizenship.

The Braves called themselves "America's Team" during 1980s, and they'll give all of those candidates for citizenship free tickets to that evening's game against -- who else? -- the Nationals.

Somehow, mom and apple pie fit into all of this, too.

Terence Moore is a columnist for

New York Mets, Atlanta Braves