Cheers from baseball, fans are for USA

Cheers from baseball, fans are for USA

Cheers from baseball, fans are for USA
Nearly 10 years after baseball offered a window into the country's pain and determination to rise above it, the sport on Monday held up a mirror to the national expression of relief and gratitude.

Major League Baseball officials, players and fans were among the quickest to react to Sunday night's news that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan in an operation involving United States Navy SEALs.

The emotional responses began during Sunday's nationally televised Mets-Phillies game, and they continued to flow deep into Monday night. As teams began to filter into clubhouses for the day's games, the men in baseball uniforms talked thankfully of the heroes wearing military uniforms.

Front-and-center again were the Yankees, who were so instrumental in soothing the original ache.

"Guess it's safe to say there were a lot of happy people in New York," said Derek Jeter. "I don't know if this was closure. I'm sure there's no closure for someone losing a loved one or a relative. But in some sense, I guess it is, from what I've seen in a lot of the interviews and people that lost family members. It sort of brings some closure. Not total closure, but some."

Joe Torre, the former Yankees manager and now Major League Baseball's executive vice president for baseball operations, told via email, "September 11 changed our lives forever. It was the worst time I've ever experienced. As the President said during his address last night, justice has been done.

"Baseball provided some moments of normalcy after 9/11, and [Sunday] night, the fans in the ballpark in Philadelphia seemed to speak for many Americans. It also seemed appropriate that a team from New York happened to be on the field."

For many, 5/1 became a day forever pressed into their minds.

"It's a historic day. No question about it. A day I'll never forget," said Alex Rodriguez, "a day that I'll tell my children about."

San Francisco's Mark DeRosa agreed, "I think today's a historic day. It means a lot to me, growing up in New Jersey and having the ability to see the Twin Towers out my window as a kid. It's a message to the American people, I'm just proud of what they were able to do. I'm proud that they were able to give closure to some of the families."

Some homestanding clubs, such as the Boston Red Sox, immediately made observance of the event. Prior to Monday night's game in Fenway Park against the Angels, the Red Sox honored the memory of 9/11 victims with a moment of silence, while an American flag blanketed the Green Monster.

"Everybody's got a reason for it to hit home," said Boston manager Terry Francona. "Whether it's family, friends or just being a citizen of the United States, it kind of hits everybody I'm sure."

Boston team captain Jason Varitek said about bin Laden: "He did a lot of destruction to this country and our people. He caused a lot, a lot of heartache."

Former New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine, on the ESPN air Sunday night broadcasting the Mets-Phillies game but too emotional to immediately comment on the breaking news, had collected his thoughts by a Monday morning spot on ESPN radio.

"Chills went through the booth and the stadium. It was a day to remember," said Valentine, the Mets' manager a decade ago and a tireless presence as Shea Stadium became a staging site for Ground Zero rescue workers.

"It stirred a lot of memories ... of being on the field on 9/21 and hearing our Commander in Chief say, 'We will never forget.' I've lived through the healing process with many friends for the last 10 years, and I'm praying [bin Laden's] demise helps with that process."

Ballplayers flocked to Twitter to share their instant reactions.

"Great day for the US," messaged the Angels' Torii Hunter. "Don't forget about those who fell from his devilish acts. Be blessed and all Goodnight."

Orioles pitcher Jeremy Guthrie double-tweeted sentiments felt in clubhouses and in living rooms everywhere:

"Bin Laden's death a sign of America's resolve & dedication of our troops. Many lives lost in the fight that still goes on. #GodBlessAmerica"

And ...

"I remember where I was on 9-11 when I heard the news & I suspect we will all remember years from now where we are tonight! #GodBlessAmerica"

Guthrie's much younger teammate, 23-year-old Zach Britton, tweeted, "A special thanks goes out 2 the brave men & women of [our] armed forces & those who gave their lives in hope of bringing Bin Laden to justice."

Arizona pitcher Daniel Hudson: "Days like today make me proud to be an American! Got chills watching #baseball tonight hearing fans chanting #USA #USA !! Awesome!"

Marlins catcher John Buck tweeted, "So proud of the men and woman that serve this country!" while similar messages of pride and thanks came from Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and broadcaster Victor Rojas.

There wasn't an ebb in the emotional tide Monday at ballparks around the country. Eyes welled up and gulps formed in throats as strains of the national anthem drifted from Nationals Park to Comerica Park to Dodger Stadium, through Fenway Park, U.S. Cellular Field and Busch Stadium.

As Joel Hanrahan, looking forward to being in PETCO Park with the rest of the Pirates, tweeted, "I always love listening to the national anthem, but tomorrow is going to be that much sweeter!!"

Before that moment of patriotism shared with the Padres and their fans, a group of 27 Pirates players and staff went on a previously and impeccably timed trip to visit with Navy SEALs at their base on Coronado Island. Obviously, the Major League visitors relished the rare opportunity to express their pride and appreciation to the team that accomplished the mission to kill bin Laden.

"Those guys were upbeat and proud of their brother SEALs for the job that they did yesterday," Pirates pitcher Paul Maholm said. "You could tell that there was a little pep to their step. It was cool for us to kind of say thank you for all they do for us."

The Nationals, in another prescient event, hosted their long-ago scheduled Military Appreciation Night during their Monday night game against the Giants.

Washington reliever Drew Storen had looked forward to the special occasion. "I expect some epic U-S-A chants tonight at Military Appreciation night at Nats Park," Storen had tweeted Monday afternoon.

Said catcher Buster Posey of the Giants, who found themselves at a unique juncture being in Washington, on their way to New York City: "These are the two places that were directly affected by the attacks -- the two places that are happy to see justice served.

Posey added, recalling 9/11, "I was in ninth grade English class. As a 14-year-old, you don't really understand completely what's going on. It took a little while for it to sink in and to understand the loss. The fact that children were losing parents, it's still hard to wrap your mind around sometimes."

Baseball earned the right to be a centerpiece for observing this important moment in history. Tragedy had confirmed baseball as pivotal in American culture. The shock of 9/11, and the first gradual steps of recovery, often were seen and felt through the prism of baseball, a sport whose season was climaxing when normal life ground to a halt.

So it was very fitting for baseball to provide the first public, unifying forum with news of the elimination of the mastermind. Baseball was there, from the first tragic moments, suspending play for a full week for the first time since World War I.

On October 30, 2001, President George Bush jogged in his windbreaker to the Yankee Stadium mound to deliver a ceremonial first pitch of recovery prior to Game 3 of the World Series - a poignant part of a Fall Classic like no other, a victory in seven games for Arizona but a reason to cheer for all Americans.

"I've said it many times, I've never been prouder to be a part of Major League Baseball than I was then," said Bob Brenly, then the Diamondbacks manager and now a Cubs broadcaster. "We get all carried away and it consumes our lives on a daily basis but the reality is we're just a distraction, we're entertainment and it was never more needed than it was that year. For the series to go the way it did, the Yankees winning those three at Yankee Stadium, I think everything played out as good as could be expected under those circumstances."

Almost a decade later, as President Barack Obama confirmed that U.S. forces had accomplished the mission of executing bin Laden, the Mets and the Phillies were playing in Citizens Bank Park as spontaneous chants of "USA! USA!" rose all around them Sunday night.

"The whole world stops on Sunday night to watch Major League Baseball," said the Yankees' Rodriguez. "The fact that baseball was right in the middle of it, and New York was right in the middle of it, gives you chills."

After the Mets' victory, New York manager Terry Collins summed up the night with marvelous succinctness:

"This is a good win for us, and obviously a huge win for America."

Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki sounded the same note on Twitter: "Today was a big win for our Armed Forces and for our Country. God Bless America."

Mets pitcher Chris Young called it "a night I'll never forget."

"It's certainly a historic night and a great victory for the United States and the war on terrorism," said Young, a Princeton student majoring in politics at the time of 9/11. "I was inside [the clubhouse]. You could hear the crowd chanting, 'U-S-A.' And I got chills hearing that."

Valentine explained why it had taken him several innings of Sunday night's broadcast to finally address the news: "When I heard it was confirmed I got choked up."

Valentine added, "It's my prayer that this helps people fill the holes of a very black part of their lives."

Mets third baseman David Wright had no problem projecting the cheers he was hearing Sunday night into neighborhoods across the land.

"The emotions that those guys must be going through hearing that same news -- you multiply that by a million and that's probably what they're feeling at the fire houses, at the police stations," said Wright, son of the assistant police chief of Norfolk, Va. "At the places like Walter Reed [Hospital], it's just an incredible moment. And like I said, for more than a split second, you kind of come together."

Tom Singer is a national reporter for Follow @Tom_Singer on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.