Sports helped heal after 9/11 and can again today
Mike Piazza hits 8th inning home run to lead Mets past Braves, 3-2, on Sept. 21, 2001. | Howard Simmons/AP

I remember 9/11, September 21, 2001: It was the bottom of the eighth inning. New York Met Mike Piazza stepped up to the plate as fans drowned out the PA announcer with cheers of “Let’s go Mets.” The Atlanta Braves had a 2-1 lead over New York, and for years these two teams fought each other for the top spot in the National League East.

“Here’s the man the Mets want up in this spot, down a run, late in the game,” Mets radio announcer Howie Rose said, as a fastball came in for strike one.

Braves pitcher Steve Karsay threw another fastball heater, hoping for strike two. Piazza took a swing and launched the ball  back…back…back… to left-center field and out of the ballpark.

The 41,235 fans cheered “USA, USA” as Piazza rounded the bases. Mets won the game 3-2, but, more importantly, the Mets gave an entire city something to cheer about 10-days after the devastating attacks at the World Trade Center.

Watching the game was a surreal moment for this sports columnist. My mother and baby sister jumped off the couch cheering, losing their ball caps, spilling their drinks, as I called my uncle out in Manhattan. After talking for less than a minute, I got off the phone and sat down in shock. With so much changing in the world, I had almost forgotten my birthday summer of 2001 was spent having dinner at Tower One’s Windows of the World restaurant—three months later it was gone.

And here we are today, 17 years after the tragedy, our emotional wounds now scars, but at that moment, at that game, it was sports that brought us together.

“When that ball went over the wall, I saw my children smile for the very first time since they lost their dad,” said Carol Gies, wife of FDNY Lt. Ronnie Gies, to Sports Illustrated, who was of the many first responders that lost their lives that day. “We were all beginning to heal.”

As baseball moves closer to the October post-season, and football gets started this year, it’s hard to imagine sports unifying our nation.

Fans once set aside their rivalries and politics, knowing there’s more to life than just sports, but within the game there is also common ground.

This year’s anniversary comes as the midterm elections kick into overdrive, and, most certainty, will be used by politicians to push nationalism—stoking the rising flames of racism and hatred.

Burning crosses off in dark distant fields have been replaced with videos of burning Nike products—retaliation against Colin Kaepernick and all Black football players taking a knee against racism, injustice, and police brutality. And every day we awake to a new scandal or tragedy pushing us closer to the edge.

In an age where sports are dividing us, it would do us all well to remember that 17 years ago we were all New Yorkers.


CONTRIBUTOR

Al Neal
Al Neal

Al Neal is a sports columnist for People’s World writing on politics, labor relations, and the general rabble-rousing in professional sports. He spent a decade working in the trade union movement with various locals across the country and currently serves as Dir. of Education and Advocacy for the St. Louis Workers’ Education Society. A member of the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Sports Media Association, National Society for Newspaper Columnists and the NewsGuild, Neal’s work and reporting has been featured in the Labor-TribuneBuzzfeed NewsRussia Today (RT)Sputnik News Wire, and Getty Images. More words at GrandStand Central.

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