NEW YORK -- When the Mets take the field on Saturday for their Subway Series game against the Yankees, they will do so in unorthodox fashion -- despite being the home team, they will have the words “NEW YORK” emblazoned across their chests.
Like most clubs, the Mets typically wear home uniforms with their team nickname on the front, replacing that with their city name only for road games or a few specialized throwback events. But Saturday will be different. Twenty years after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Mets see it as a fitting gesture to represent their city.
“Twenty years has gone by so fast,” former Mets closer John Franco said. “I’m so proud of the Met organization.”
For weeks now, Franco and other members of the 2001 Mets and Yankees have shared their memories of one of the most important periods of their lives. Following the attacks, the Mets were in Pittsburgh awaiting instructions on what to do. As they bused back, they grew quiet while crossing the George Washington Bridge, seeing only the spotlights and smoke that obscured the New York skyline. Led by then-manager Bobby Valentine, Mets players immediately began playing a central role in relief efforts at Ground Zero, trying to use their celebrity to accomplish what good they could.
Twenty years later, it’s still an important mission for the Mets, the Yankees and anyone else associated with baseball in New York City. That is why more than a dozen members of the 2001 Mets will gather at Citi Field for a pregame ceremony on Saturday, along with various Yankees luminaries and a sold-out crowd. Valentine will throw out a ceremonial first pitch to his Yankees counterpart, Joe Torre, while players from both teams will have the option of wearing caps from New York City’s first responder agencies -- just as the Mets famously did during the first game in New York City following the attacks.
“It was overwhelmingly the sentiment of every guy that if they think we’re not going to wear these hats, they can come down here and try to rip them off our heads,” former Mets player rep Todd Zeile said. “That was the way we felt. And that felt like it was a connection to the guys and girls that were still out there searching for their friends and brothers.”
In addition to their caps and reworded uniforms, the Mets will alter the design and colors of their jerseys to match what they wore in 2001. Both teams will affix the American flag on the upper-back portion of their uniform tops, as they did in ’01, while the Mets will replicate the “9-11-01” patches that they donned on their right sleeves. In addition, the Mets will have special guests on hand to perform “America the Beautiful,” the national anthem and “God Bless America.”
“Whether it’s hats with first responders, fire, police -- any time you put that on, there’s some emotion tied to that and there’s some honor tied to that,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “To be a part of a lot of eyeballs on this this weekend, I’m honored to be a part of it.”
Pregame ceremonies will begin at 7 p.m. ET, featuring former Mets and Yankees -- including Hall of Famer Mike Piazza, who hit one of the most impactful home runs in city history on Sept. 21, 2001 -- as well as first responders, members of the FDNY and NYPD honor guards, charitable organizations linked to Sept. 11 and many others.
But for both teams, the 20-year remembrance is about far more than a single ceremony. As they do every year in early September, former and current Mets players visited multiple firehouses around the city this week to honor local servicemen and women. Among them were pitchers Noah Syndergaard and Rich Hill, who traveled to FDNY Engine 325, Ladder 163 in Woodside, Queens, where many of the ladder’s firemen brought their families for the occasion.
Hill, who was attending college at the University of Michigan in 2001, teared up when asked about his experience visiting the firehouse. Syndergaard noted that it “puts things in perspective.”
“Maybe not everybody still remembers,” said Kevin Morrow, a young fireman in 2001 who helped with relief efforts and lost friends in the process. “The cry was, ‘We’ll never forget.’ Something symbolic and simple like a baseball player coming out, that makes us feel good and makes us understand that there are a lot of people that still understand what happened, and how our nation was attacked and how we unified. Our flag still represents what it represents.”