The tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, weren't far from the minds of those at Major League ballparks on Tuesday, as teams, players and other team personnel observed the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
The remembrances stretched across the country from San Diego to New York, where the Mets found themselves in the thick of things, much as they did on Sept. 21, 2001. On that day, the club hosted the Braves at Shea Stadium in the first game played in New York since the attacks, with Mike Piazza smacking an emotional winning home run.
On Tuesday, the Mets honored the people who lost their lives on 9/11 by wearing first-responder hats during batting practice and the national anthem. The hats will be autographed and auctioned off at Mets.com/gameused with proceeds distributed by the Mets Foundation to Sept. 11-related organizations. The club also will don the hats on its plane ride back from Milwaukee this weekend.
Representatives from the NYPD, FDNY, PAPD, EMS Court Officers, OEM and the Sanitation Department presented the colors before the game. Juliette Candela (form Tuesday's Children organization) sang the national anthem, while Regina Wilson (FDNY) performed God Bless America. The Gies family threw out the ceremonial first pitch to honor FDNY firefighter Ronnie Gies, who lost his life on 9/11.
"It's one of those dates in history where we all know where we were when the attacks came," said Mets manager Terry Collins, who attended the first game played at Yankee Stadium following 9/11. "The bravery that those guys showed ... I'm not sure that I could have done that."
The hat was only a small part of the anniversary for Mets third baseman David Wright, who visited an area firehouse for the eighth consecutive year. Squad 18, which lost seven members on 9/11, spent an hour with Wright, Mets COO Jeff Wilpon and New York City Fire commissioner Salvatore Cassano on Monday, talking, posing for photos and playing darts.
"It's very special. To go back there and spend some time with the firefighters and hear the stories that they have and hear the way that they remember the peers that they lost on 9/11, it's touching and moving," said Wright, whose father, Rhon, is a police chief in Norfolk, Va. "It's something I really look forward to doing each year."
Wright's predecessor as Mets third baseman, Robin Ventura, is now the manager of the White Sox. But on Sept. 21, 2001, he started at the hot corner in baseball's return to New York, an experience he won't soon forget.
"It was a tough time. It's one of those things, I don't think we knew it at the time how important it would be, just to do something else to create a diversion of guys playing baseball," Ventura said on Monday in Chicago, where the White Sox were hosting the Tigers. "It was good for the people of New York to go to something, because it was in front of you. It was everywhere you went."
The Mets' starting pitcher that day was current Royals lefty Bruce Chen. Before Kansas City played in Minnesota on Tuesday, Chen recalled everything from the Mets' eight-hour bus ride from Pittsburgh back to New York following 9/11 to Piazza's dramatic shot in front of more than 40,000 fans.
"When Mike Piazza hit that home run, it was as if people could see a light at the end of the tunnel -- 'You know what, things are not good and everything, but if this team can come back and win the game, things are going to be OK,'" Chen said. "When he hit that home run, people were like, 'This can be done. We can get over this, we can move on with our lives and things are going to be OK.'"
Besides offering some return to normalcy by playing baseball, the Mets also devoted themselves to the relief effort around Ground Zero, led by manager Bobby Valentine, now the skipper of the Red Sox.
"People stepped up and did a yeoman's job of filling voids in people's lives, filling voids in the community in New York and DC and Pennsylvania," Valentine said before Tuesday's game against the Yankees at Fenway Park. "They filled in voids in the country. I'm grateful that I worked side-by-side with a lot of people who gave a damn. I think they made a little bit of a difference. I think that we should never forget, and I don't think it's going to ever be the same. All I can say is that I continue to try to do everything that I can, and I don't think it's enough."
Another former Mets manager, Davey Johnson, now leads the Nationals, the Mets' opponent on Tuesday at Citi Field. Johnson's current club commemorated the occasion by wearing its navy blue Stars and Stripes uniforms on the road for the first time.
Johnson, who managed the Mets to their 1986 World Series victory, spent time on Tuesday participating in a charity event that bond-trading firm Cantor Fitzgerald held in Manhattan, with the help of more than 100 celebrities and athletes. The firm lost 658 employees in the attacks.
"It's just a great cause for all the heroes and people who died, to give something back," Johnson said. "I certainly love the city of New York and how they're dealing with that loss. It's good to remember it."
Other clubs honored the day in numerous ways, including with moments of silence, special presentations of the colors and involvement from military members and their families.
The Red Sox blanketed the Green Monster with a U.S. flag before their game, after holding a blood drive at Fenway Park all morning. In Baltimore, members of the U.S. Army Chorus sang the national anthem. Naval veteran Willard Converse, one of the first to liberate prisoners of war in Japan at the end of World War II, performed the ceremonial flag raising during the national anthem before the Twins' game at Target Field.
The Astros dubbed the night "Heroes night," and Houston Mayor Annise Parker honored first responders and military personnel in a pregame ceremony before Tuesday's game against the Cubs. Five first responders that were sent from Houston to New York following the attacks combined to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. The Padres and Rockies also held ceremonies that honored the city's first responders.
In Colorado, the Rockies also presented a check for $80,799.30 that was collected from fans on June 29-30 for its Fire Relief Fund to help the victims of wildfires in the state. Rockies owner and CEO Dick Monfort presented the check on the field.
The D-backs held a presentation to recognize "Honor and Remember," an organization dedicated to recognizing soldiers that have lost their lives defending the U.S. The Angels had the Orange County Fire Color Guard march onto the field as a giant flag was unveiled in the outfield during a pregame ceremony.
The Reds, who were celebrating their second Police and Fire Appreciation Night of the season, displayed a piece of a steel beam from the World Trade Center in their Fan Zone. Fans at Miller Park in Milwaukee got a flyover from four F-16 Fighting Falcons. The Rangers held Military Appreciation Night, which included a ceremonial first pitch from U.S. Army veteran Joe Washam on behalf of the Wounded Warrior Project.
All of those efforts helped ensure people won't forget the events of Sept. 11, the importance of which Rays manager Joe Maddon summed up in his comments about the anniversary.
"We, our country, the way we conduct ourselves sometimes, we tend to forget things rather quickly," Maddon said. "We cannot forget the event or the people we lost in that moment. So to all the families out there, and all the extended families, a lot of us were impacted by that moment, the nation was impacted, the world was impacted, my best to all of the families from me and the Rays. And we will never forget."