I saw the deadline on my calendar, “Zisk article due today,” but couldn’t motivate myself to write anything. Not to say that I haven’t been writing a lot lately, just not about sports. I’ve been watching baseball on TV and finally got my ass to a Mets game. None of my ideas really panned out beyond the lines, “I don’t care if Barry Bonds returns to baseball. I don't want him to surpass Hank’s record.” Maybe I’m in a particularly emotional and sentimental mood because of the images of devastation and the loss of life from Hurricane Katrina, or the upcoming four-year anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. I don’t know for sure, but it's a good guess. I do know that these two events got me thinking about the role of sports—baseball in particular—during the darkest times.
I've mentioned before that I play second base for my company softball team, the Pubs. Every year, sometime after our season ends, we have an intra-squad game. In September 2001, I wasn’t too sure if we were going to have a game. After the attacks, the police closed off everything below 14th Street. Unless you were a resident with ID, the guards wouldn't allow you to pass through. Our office, located about a mile and a half north of the World Trade Center site, was re-opened a week after 9/11. Amongst the Pubs, e-mails circulated. There was discussion of not playing our annual intra-squad game. It almost didn't feel right yet to actually enjoy ourselves, to joke around and play a light-hearted game of softball. Our coach, David sent out an e-mail, asking us, “Should we play?” and “Do you want to play?” People overwhelmingly responded “yes,” yours truly included. It was settled, our game would be Friday, 9/21/01.
Though I don’t recall every moment of our game, I remember that we had a good time. We played in Central Park on the Great Lawn. Afterwards, we went to our usual after-game bar, the Gin Mill, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which has several TV’s always tuned into baseball games. We sat in the back of the bar in front of the five TV’s. The Mets-Braves game was on. It was the Mets’ first home game since the terrorist attacks. Mets-Braves games were always emotional, but this one was different. The rivalry was there, but it didn't seem to matter as much that we hated Chipper or Andruw Jones, because the game seemed bigger than that. After the moment of silence, and the bagpipes, and the National Anthem, the game was on. We sat, drank and ate bar food and talked about our season and our personal experiences on 9/11, pausing every now and then to watch the Mets play. We found ourselves cheering and then complaining about the Braves, and our renewed hatred for them surfaced. It was good to be with my friends. The Mets beat the Braves too, 3-2. The Mets weren't doing too well that season, but it didn't matter: for us, baseball became a starting point. We couldn't forget what happened on 9/11, but we began to heal by way of the game.
In the wake of human loss, sports seem so insignificant. They mean nothing. And yet, they mean everything. They are significant. Sports bring people together. Baseball (and softball) brought my friends and I together. There, I stood silently, weeping, in a crowded bar with my friends and teammates, Kip, Daryl, Mike, David, Jackie, Peter and Gregg, watching the commemorative ceremonies for those lives lost in the World Trade Center attacks, in Washington D.C. and in that Pennsylvania field. I had sort of been in a stupor since 9/11 and I cried and worried a lot. Like many New Yorkers, I remembered every moment of September 11th, from what I wore, to what the weather was like, to what I ate for breakfast, to what I was thinking before the first tower was hit, to my co-workers and I standing across the street from our office building looking South down Hudson Street, watching the towers on fire, and thick, black smoke filling lower Manhattan. I—we—needed something seemingly normal to do, which was to play softball and watch a baseball game.
The Yankees went on to play against the Diamondbacks in the World Series that November. I knew that I was slowly getting back to some normalcy, when the Yankees lost and I found myself screaming out my apartment window, in my best John Sterling impersonation, "Thaaa Yankeeees LOSE! Thaaaaa Yaaankeeees LOSE!!" The next day I was walking across Carmine Street on my way to work. I spotted Kip on the corner, I yelled "Kip!” He turned and we both hugged and jumped around, and yelled, "The Yankees lost!!! The Yankees LOST." We tried to contain our joy, but it was almost impossible.
I knew then that we were going to be OK.
Lisa Alcock is happy to see that the Mets are doing better than her fantasy league team, “Mrs. Wright.” She’s also been enjoying the spots featuring a silly Mr. Met. All Hail Mr. Met!