Nearly a half-million fans gathering at ballparks hosting Saturday games will celebrate enduring American values: freedom, patriotism and opportunity. It is time to pause and solemnly remember the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, while joining the White House in observing a National Day of Service and Remembrance.
"It was a day I'll never forget. I hope that, in our own little way, we helped the country, maybe, to a catharsis," Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said on the fifth anniversary of the attacks, recalling the obvious decision to cancel games from that Sept. 11-16 -- and the extremely difficult decision to resume them.
"I remember how I agonized about when to come back. And that was tough, because you really didn't know and you wanted to do the right thing. You know when I knew? I got home that Monday, when we came back. I went upstairs and turned on the satellite dish to watch all the games, very nervous as to how this was all playing. And Jack Buck wrote a poem. He said in the middle of it [at old Busch Stadium], 'Should we be here tonight?' And the crowd cheered. There was a lot of emotion, a lot of tears. I called Jack the next morning. He sent me the handwritten copy of the poem, and I keep it at my desk. It meant a great deal to me, because that said it best.
"This horrible tragedy had seared this country, and certainly what it did to me was beyond description. I watched with great interest when the Mets came home and [Mike] Piazza hit a home run to win a game. What I really saw was during the World Series. I had never seen anything like the emotion in New York. You could see how much it meant to people -- just to give them a chance to be together, to cheer for their hometown team. I was proud then, because I said to myself, 'Well, if we can help in the healing process, be part of the catharsis, then that is our role.' This is a social institution with enormous social responsibility."
At each ballpark on Saturday, players, managers and coaches will wear Stars & Stripes caps, which are a tribute to military personnel defending freedom. Fans can buy those caps in the MLB.com Shop and know that part of the proceeds go to Welcome Back Veterans, the organization started by Major League Baseball and its partners to help returning troops.
At each ballpark, there will be a Welcome Back Veterans public-service announcement featuring First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden. There is a similar thread to the ceremony from ballpark to ballpark, and individual clubs and communities also are remembering the events of 9/11 in their own unique ways.
On Friday, four members of the Astros -- manager Brad Mills and players Jason Michaels, Jeff Keppinger and Bud Norris -- visited local fire stations to thank firefighters for their service to the Houston community. The players "adopted" the firehouse that corresponds with their uniform number, presented the station with an autographed, framed jersey, signed autographs and took pictures with the firefighters. In two years, the Astros' Adopt-A-Firehouse program has had 13 players visit local firehouses.
In addition to those firehouse visits today, the Astros are honoring area first responders and military personnel with activities at Saturday night's game.
Before their 1:05 ET game against Florida, Nationals players will pay tribute to the District of Columbia Fire Department (DCFD) for helping keep the Nation's Capital safe by wearing specially-designed DCFD baseball caps during batting practice. In addition, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and catcher Ivan Rodriguez will be recognized by the DCFD as Honorary Fire Chiefs with a special helmet presentation.
As part of the Military Recognition at the end of the third inning, representatives from the Post 911 Foundation will present the Nationals with a flag that was flown at Ground Zero. The presentation will also include an exclusive video broadcast on NatsHD depicting a scene from nine years earlier, when Detective Rich Miller first raised the American flag over Ground Zero the morning of Sept. 12, 2001. Led by Miller and Master Sgt. Scott Neil, the Post 911 Foundation was formed to provide direct support to those who have served the nation following 9/11. Their flag will be present for special occasions hosted by the Nationals throughout the year before returning to Ground Zero next September for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
The Braves will salute the nation's first responders and local heroes from the Atlanta Police and Fire Departments, in a ceremony that begins at 3:50 p.m. ET. More than 100 police officers and firefighters will take part in an on-field ceremony commemorating the anniversary of 9/11. Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran and Police Chief George Turner will simultaneously throw out the ceremonial first pitch, and New York Shields of Georgia, a group of retired New York police officers, will perform the Color Guard before the National Anthem.
In the Braves' continued support of America's military, pilots from Moody Air Force Base will perform a flyover in A-10 Thunderbolts at the conclusion of the National Anthem. Chief Master Sgt. Shawn Ashley, a Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal recipient just home from Operation Iraqi Freedom, will be honored as the game's "Hometown Hero" at the end of the fourth inning. During the seventh-inning stretch, Timothy Miller from the Atlanta Opera will perform a rendition of God Bless America.
The White Sox have partnered with Operation Support our Troops of Illinois to help the recovery of the nation's heroes who suffered injuries during war. White Sox fans will have the opportunity to make a positive impact in the lives of military personnel currently at combat support hospitals through the "Sox for Troops" campaign.
For Saturday's game, fans are encouraged to donate packages of new, white (athletic) socks, which will be delivered to military personnel injured during service. Volunteers from Support our Troops of Illinois will be collecting the socks outside Gates 2, 3, 4 and 5 of U.S. Cellular Field from 5:30 p.m. ET through the top of the second inning; gametime there is 7:05 ET.