This Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America that resulted in tragic deaths in New York City, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania. When the attacks occured on Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, it relegated sports to a meaningless position. As important as baseball is to millions of fans, the game pales in comparison to life and death.
Baseball took a one-week hiatus, as Major League Baseball postponed nearly 100 games from September 11-16. When it returned, the country was decidedly different, but the game served as a sign that America would go on with business as usual.
Three current Tigers were active in the big leagues in 2001 when the historic events occurred: Brandon Inge, Magglio Ordonez, and Brad Penny. Many others were in the minor leagues at the time, but a few, like pitcher Rick Porcello, were just youngsters. Porcello was a 12-year old boy living in Morristown, New Jersey in September of 2001, about 35 miles from ground zero at the World Trade Center.
Members of the Yankees were in New York the day of the attacks, but when they returned, they were scheduled to play the White Sox in Chicago. Ordonez played right field in that game, and even though the players had a week to digest the devastating events of that fateful day, Mags remembers feeling different.
“It was like everyone – the fans, the umpires, the players – were in a cloud that first few innings,” Ordonez recalls. “I don’t remember much about how I did, but I remember feeling so bad for the families of the attack.”
Penny was in his second season with the Florida Marlins, a member of a young and talented starting rotation. He pitched the second game back for the Marlins against the Expos in Montreal on September 18.
“We had a job to do, but it didn’t seem that important. But we had a season to play,” Penny remembers. “[The fans] in Montreal … they sand the National Anthem and cheered when the flag was shown on the scoreboard. That sent chills through [me].”
The Tigers resumed their 2001 season on the same day, losing to the Twins in Minnesota, 8-3. Inge caught that game and had two strikeouts. His batting average for the season was .206 – some things never change.
Teams returned wearing American flag patches on their sleeves and their caps. Famously, Sammy Sosa carried a small U.S. flag out to his position in right field for the Cubs. The postponed games were made up following the last scheduled week of the season, the post-season being pushed back into November. Prior to Game Three of the World Series in New York between the Yankees and Diamondbacks, wearing a swetshirt emblazoned with “FDNY” for the New York Fire Department, President George W. Bush strode confidently to the Yankee Stadium mound and fired a strike to backup catcher Todd Greene.
“It shows we’re not afraid, we’re undeterred and that life is moving on the way it should,” New York mayor Rudy Guiliani said at the time.
Now a decade later, baseball is still an integral part of our nation. Remembering how it helped heal a country after 9/11 reminds us how much the game is part of the American fabric.