NEW YORK -- Todd Greene spent 11 years in the big leagues as a backup catcher for several teams, including the Angels, Yankees and Rangers. He doesn’t have to think twice when it comes to his best moment in baseball.
It occurred on Oct. 30, 2001, as a member of the Yankees, almost two months after 9/11. It was right before the start of Game 3 of the 2001 World Series between the D-backs and Yankees. Greene was the receiver who caught the first pitch -- a strike -- thrown by President George W. Bush.
“You can use all the words to describe it. It was hair-raising, different. Just an awesome healing moment for our country,” the 50-year-old Greene said via telephone.
The tragedy of 9/11, an event that claimed nearly 3,000 lives, had the United States reeling. New York was still on high alert for potential terror attacks. According to Greene, dogs were sniffing around in the locker room every 30 minutes before the game. Security was everywhere. The hope was that the game would help fans forget -- at a least for a couple of hours.
“It doesn’t feel like 20 years,” Greene said. “It’s hard to say it's an anniversary of something that was so tragic and bad. But 20 years has gone by really fast.
“It’s by far my best moment [in baseball] because of the significance for the healing process that our country needed at the time. So, I don’t know what I could have done -- from a players' standpoint -- to top what our country needed at the time, which is what President Bush did. It was just a huge moment in time of healing to let the whole world know that we are moving forward, and you are not going to intimidate us.”
Greene was thrust into the moment. Initially, starting catcher Jorge Posada was going to catch the first pitch, but he was busy with a bullpen session with Game 3 starter Roger Clemens. Greene knew Posada was in the Yankees' bullpen in left-center field, so Greene took it upon himself to catch the first pitch.
“I was determined to make sure that I wasn’t going to let President Bush or myself look bad, no matter what the throw was,” Greene said. “I was going to make sure it was a successful pitch to kick off the three games in New York, for sure.”
President Bush stepped out of the Yankees' dugout with the crowd yelling, “USA!” He stepped on the rubber and threw a strike to Greene.
“I didn’t have to worry about it. It seemed like the perfect throw,” Greene said.
Greene later found out why Bush threw the ball so well. When someone is asked to throw the first pitch, that person usually sets up at the base of the mound. But then-Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter told President Bush that he had to throw it while on the pitching mound, according to the HBO documentary “Nine innings from Ground Zero.”
“I told him to throw it from the mound, or you will get booed. This is Yankee Stadium,” Jeter told HBO.
President Bush agreed to throw from the mound, but Jeter then upped the ante again.
“[Jeter] said don’t bounce it, they will boo you,’” President Bush told HBO. “I’m sitting there kind of fairly relaxed and feeling fairly loose, and the great Derek Jeter [says], 'Don’t bounce it, they’ll boo you.' All of a sudden, the pressure mounted.”
President Bush followed Jeter’s instructions and did a great job, and there’s not a day that goes by that Greene doesn’t think about that moment.
“I have the picture in my house. I pretty much see it every day at home when I walk into my office,” Greene said. “Look, everything is so political now. It was just nice to think back to how united we were as a country after [9/11] happened. … I hope it doesn’t take something like that again to bring us together.”
Greene recently received a letter of remembrance from President Bush, who told him that he remembered the first pitch 20 years ago.
“It was pretty cool,” Greene said.