Cleveland steps up, honors heroes of 9/11

Climbing of 2,071 stairs matches those taken by 1st responders at Twin Towers

September 11th, 2021

CLEVELAND – Two weeks ago, the Indians' front office recognized that the 20th observance of the Sept. 11 attacks were quickly approaching. And just like so many other people, they knew it was their responsibility to try to assure that no one will ever forget what took place in 2001. That’s when an idea was born.

The group figured out the exact number of stairs to climb in the upper deck of Progressive Field to match the 2,071 steps (or 110 floors) that heroic men and women climbed in the Twin Towers in New York on that day 20 years ago. Indians vice president of learning and development for baseball operations Jay Hennessey, who spent more than two decades with the Navy, played a large role in setting up the event.

From there, it was the participants who made it even more special.

“Since Jay dreamed it up, I wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing,” bullpen coach Brian Sweeney said. “I happened to come on a Wikipedia site and it said in the World Trade Center, there were 343 firefighters, 37 Port Authority police officers, 23 NYPD police officers and there were eight EMTs from a private ambulance, three court officers and one fire control guy.

“Just to read that, that’s why we did it. We don’t want to forget.”

Firefighters, police officers, members of the FBI and some from the military joined Sweeney and so many others, including a handful of people within the Indians' organization to start a climb from the seats in right field, all the way to the other corner in left field, and back to the Addie Joss sign that hangs just over the Kids Clubhouse in the right-field corner to officially climb 2,071 steps.

“Anybody has some connection to 9/11,” Hennessey said, “whether it’s a family member that was with a fire department or a first responder or we have a lot of people in the organization who were veterans or whose family members were veterans. So, I think everybody just feels that connection to the day and wants to come out and honor it.”

For Sweeney, who spends his offseasons as a volunteer firefighter to follow in the footsteps of his father, who fought fires for over 30 years, it was a humbling and inspiring experience.

“[It brought] back that camaraderie like the day of Sept. 12, [when] we were all proud to be American and supporting each other,” Sweeney said after the event.

Every year there are a handful of videos that circulate social media of people wearing their full firefighting gear at the gym or on a public staircase, trying to recreate exactly what it would’ve been like for first responders in New York on that day. The same happened in Cleveland on Saturday, when five firefighters -- three from East Cleveland and two from downtown -- climbed all 110 flights with all of their equipment.

“It’s unbelievable,” Sweeney said. “They had their full PPE on, those coats, that bunker gear. It doesn’t breathe. It doesn’t let any air out because it’s got to block you from being burned. These guys are climbing steps, sweating, but they weren’t going to stop. They stopped to rest, but they were going to finish.”

The point of this event was to make sure the memory of this day would forever live in the present, especially now that there's a generation which was too young to remember the details of the events or people who weren't even born yet. That's why it was even more special for Sweeney to share it with one of his pitchers, Sam Hentges, who was only five years old at the time of the attacks.

Hentges was there from start to finish, refusing to leave before the last person took their final step. He handed out bottles of water, cheered everyone on and enjoyed every second he had to be a part of the inaugural event.

“Sam went above and beyond today to be there,” Sweeney said. “That inspired me. He said seeing the guys climb, seeing everybody come together is inspiring to him. But to see younger people getting involved, that’s inspiring to me.”

The day was a success – such a success that the team is confident this will turn into an annual thing. And for someone like Sweeney, who knows first-hand just what it takes to be a first responder, he couldn’t be more on board to do this again in 365 days.

“It’s inspiring to see the human race do this,” Sweeney said. “We see all that negative [stuff] out there. ... But when people come together for a common cause, man, humanity is beautiful. It really is. And today, today was a beautiful moment.”