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First pitch celebrates, honors 9/11 hero

First pitch celebrates, honors 9/11 hero

First pitch celebrates, honors 9/11 hero
Christopher Cannizzaro has led a life nurtured in the shadow of a tragedy, an existence framed by the historic event that occurred before his first birthday. Cannizzaro, the 10-year-old son of fallen New York firefighter Brian Cannizzaro, was on hand at Citi Field on Friday to throw out the ceremonial first pitch and to celebrate the resilient nature of the American family.

Cannizzaro was a month-and-a-half shy of his first birthday when his father responded to the emergency call at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and he's grown up with the perpetual absence of a formidable presence. Birthdays, holidays and school events have come and gone, and young Cannizzaro keeps creeping closer and closer to maturity.

That constant march toward adulthood gained some fresh perspective on Thursday, when Cannizzaro got to meet and share his story with President Obama as part of the events related to the death of Osama Bin Laden earlier in the week. Jackie Cannizzaro, Christopher's mother, shared what the last 48 hours have been like for her family.

"It was just an amazing moment to have with the president. He shared some words with Chris," she said. "He just talked so informally and so graciously, and it was an absolutely beautiful moment. It was so nice to show that he hasn't forgotten about the sacrifices that the firefighters and the first responders made on 9/11. It was really amazing for Chris to connect. He was only 10 1/2 months old at the time, and now he's able to understand the significance and the enormity of everything we went through."

And their appearance at Citi Field was appropriate, because the Mets have been a part of Christopher's life before he was even born. Jackie Cannizzaro said that Chris was named after a former Met -- backup catcher Chris Cannizzaro -- and she said that his father took the namesake equation so seriously that he put the player's card in the incubator with his infant son.

Cannizzaro, who lives on Staten Island, had been born during the Subway World Series between the Mets and Yankees in 2000, lending him an intimate bond with the team his father loved. And he's whet his baseball appetite over the past decade, pitching in Little League and nursing a full-blown crush on everything related to the Mets.

"It's really amazing. I never thought this would happen," said the young Cannizzaro of his trip to Citi Field. "I've always been a Mets fan. I've always hated the Yankees. This is so much of an amazing experience to be here."

That's why Cannizzaro, when invited to do another interview on Friday night, chose instead to attend the game. His family contacted the Mets, and the team went out of its way to accommodate his every wish. Cannizzaro got to stand on the field before the game and to interact with the players, and he fired the first pitch low and under the glove of catcher Josh Thole.

The moment, said his mother, was something that the family never expected and couldn't put into words.

"Today, we woke up to newspapers and many interviews that featured Christopher in his moment with President Obama," she said. "Actually, tonight, we were asked to do an interview, but Christopher obviously chose to come to the Mets game. We had tickets to the game and he was really excited to go. So my brother-in-law -- who's actually also a firefighter in Red Hook -- contacted the Mets and told them that we would be coming and about all of the events that had occurred. And when I talked to somebody at the media office, he already knew exactly who Chris was because he was all over the news yesterday with President Obama."

Cannizzaro, decked out in a David Wright jersey, spent most of his afternoon right in front of the Mets dugout, meeting and greeting the players as they filed away from the batting cage. He got to meet and pose for a picture with Thole, and he spent some time with former closer John Franco before the game. Second baseman Daniel Murphy gave Cannizzaro a bat, and he gleefully spent some time standing on the fringe of the field and swinging it, much to the amusement of his grandfather, Sam.

Sam Cannizzaro, Brian's father, stood quietly on the field for much of the day, smiling and watching his grandson live out his dream. The family patriarch, a firefighter for 32 years, wore a sweatshirt that paid tribute to his son and Ladder 101, the Red Hook, Brooklyn-based fire company that lost seven men in the events of September 11.

That piece of apparel repurposed a line from the popular film Gladiator -- "What we do in life echoes in eternity" -- and took on a new meaning on Friday, as young Chris Cannizzaro stood as silent testimony to his father's passing. In a quiet moment, Sam Cannizzaro took the time to discuss the impact this day had on three generations of his family.

"I'm so excited for my grandson, and I'm so proud," he said. "With yesterday and now today, his father, looking down from heaven, has got to be busting his buttons. ... It's enjoyable here at the ballpark, but the pain of losing a son never [subsides]. Brian was one of those sons who was like a niche, he was there all the time. That pain doesn't go away, even with the excitement of yesterday and of being here. But I'm really excited for Chris, because he's at the age he should be thinking happy thoughts."

Cannizzaro's oldest son works as an architect, but his two other sons both followed in his footsteps and became firefighters. And so may Chris, one day, but he's still too young to know what he wants to do with the rest of his life.

"It's too early," said Sam of his grandson's future. "Yesterday, when one of the reporters asked him if he wants to be a firefighter, he said, 'I don't think so.' But he's too young.

"He has so much of [his father's] quirks. He walks like him. He talks like him. He's starting to look more like him all the time. He's got the same personality, and it's really like living it all over again. He's a great little boy."

So much has changed in the last decade; so many things to savor, so many things to overcome. But when Sam Cannizzaro thinks of the upcoming 10th anniversary of September 11, he can't help but know his life will never be the same.

"I really haven't given it much thought," said Cannizzaro of the anniversary. "But it's just going to renew the sadness of not having Brian at home all over again. My wife and I celebrated our 50th anniversary last week, and I have two other sons who threw us a party. We have a nice picture, but Brian's not in it. And I couldn't help but feel that something's missing."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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