Baseball’s slow comeback after 9/11

In the photo, a family stands in front of the marquee at Wrigley Field.

A woman holds the hand of a child and the child looks up questioningly.

In the photo, which appeared on sports pages across the country on September 12, 2001, the marquee reads: “Tonight’s game is canceled.”

Baseball is said to play an important role in the country’s recovery from the devastating psychological impact of September 11. But first, the nation’s hobby itself needed time to stop to heal. Until then, there would be no immediate solace and no escape from the stark reality resulting from the attack on our homeland.

Hours after the attacks, Commissioner Bud Selig canceled the day’s program, “in the interests of security and in deep mourning for the national tragedy that has occurred today”.

Safety was indeed a major concern for all teams.

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Danny Graves in town to face the Cubs that day told columnist Hal McCoy, “I was so relieved to hear that they canceled every major league game. What a perfect place to attract 40,000 more people. The world is so screwed up. It is very scary. “

Sandy Alomar Jr., whose White Sox were in New York on Sept. 11 to play the Yankees, said, “We shouldn’t be playing out of respect for the families and the people who are still working to try and find bodies. playing show people that we are not afraid, but what we do is secondary.

Baseball had to immediately adapt to a post 9/11 world, including its impact on travel.

As the planes were unavailable, the Sox and other crews on the route returned by chartered bus.

Cubs manager Don Baylor said: “Having 45 minutes after a game to get to O’Hare and jump on a plane is not going to happen.”

For fans, the post 9/11 baseball world would mean gate security checks and restrictions on what they could bring to the park, with a ban on big bags, backpacks and coolers.

On September 13, the Cubs resumed training at Friendly Confines.

Bruce Miles, who was covering the Cubs at the time for the Daily Herald, recalled: “The eerie calm was the most important thing that struck me about the training day, I wondered if the gamers would be able to invoke the joy it would take to play more games. “

In his story on training, Miles wrote about this silence, relieved by the fluttering of the flags at the top of the stadium. Flying over the half-staffed midfield dashboard was Old Glory.

But soon, the familiar sounds of players training filled the park, with Cubs wide receiver Joe Girardi remarking that it was important “to hear your teammates laughing and joking, because there hasn’t been a lot of it in. our country in recent days. “

At Comiskey Park, on National Day of Remembrance on September 14, the White Sox gathered in left field, knelt, removed their caps and bowed their heads.

Outfielder Chris Singleton led the team in prayer before the team began to practice. Shortstop Jose Valentin lightened the mood by doing play-by-play simulations in the batting cage.

On September 18, baseball returned to Chicago with the Sox taking on the Yankees.

Firefighters and police stood along the infield to receive applause from both teams.

During a pre-game ceremony, officers presented candles to New York manager Joe Torre and White Sox manager Jerry Manuel.

But it didn’t take long for the two teams to put the ceremony aside and return to intense competition.

After referee Mike Winters ruled that a Ray Durham line fouled the first baseline, Winters ejected Sox coach Gary Pettis for arguing the appeal. When Durham struck and returned to the cover, he smashed his bat and threw his helmet away, securing an early exit.

With the Cubs returning to Wrigley to face Houston on September 27, co-captain Girardi has been asked to address the crowd ahead of the game. Cubs media relations manager Sharon Pannozzo asked Miles to help write the speech.

Miles, who then commented, recalled, “Joe delivered it beautifully. I was a nervous wreck listening to him, hoping he hits the right notes.”

Girardi said, “We have witnessed a renewed spirit of what it means to be an American.” In a voice overflowing with emotion, he continued, “We have also learned the true meaning of the word hero. The real heroes are the men and women represented here tonight by our police, fire and American Red Cross responders, who risked, and in some cases, gave their lives so that others could live. “

Co-Captain Sammy Sosa stood up and listened to Girardi’s speech. But it wasn’t long before Sosa himself spoke with his bat.

In the first run, Sosa drove a pitch from Shane Reynolds into the stands. As Sosa touched the sack from first base, first base coach Billy Williams presented him with an American flag, which he held as he rounded the bases to enthusiastic cheers from the crowd.

Williams told Miles in 2019, “I had the flag in my sock. When Sammy hit the home run, I was looking at the ball in right field and Sammy was getting closer. The wind was blowing and Sammy was getting closer. I was watching. the ball again. I had to bend over quickly and give it to him. At that point, people had (followed) the ball. They didn’t see me hand the flag to Sammy. It was really neat. . “

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