Managers were at Shea Stadium for first game in NY following attacks
By Brian Hedger
Special to MLB.com |
CHICAGO -- The emotions are still raw, even 15 years later.
They come flooding back to White Sox manager Robin Ventura and Royals manager Ned Yost whenever they're asked about Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorist attacks that struck New York, Washington D.C. and rural Pennsylvania changed the world.
Sunday marked 15 years since those attacks, and prior to Sunday's series finale between Chicago and Kansas City, a ceremony was held to observe the National Day of Remembrance. It included members of the military, Chicago police and fire departments and a parade of American-flag carrying Harley Davidson motorcycles ridden by The Warrior Watch Riders.
Players wore specially-designed hats, as well, but the true emotions of the day could best be felt earlier in the day, when each manager spoke in detail about their memories of the attacks and the aftermath.
"We were in Pittsburgh, actually, at the time," said Ventura, who was playing with the Mets. "We had a players association meeting scheduled. I remember getting up and having some coffee and then you just see what's unfolding on TV and you can't believe it. You just can't believe what your eyes are seeing."
Ventura started to choke up when he talked about what he saw next, after the Mets returned to Shea Stadium on a bus the next day.
"Shea was used as a staging area for all the supplies going into Manhattan," he said. "It was right there in front of us. It was amazing, just the cooperation and the teamwork of everybody and all the firefighters coming from all over to help out. Just incredible. It still just gets to you. It really does."
Yost, who was coaching with the Braves, said he and former Atlanta catcher Javy Lopez got an even closer look at those responding to the tragedy. When they arrived in New York to play the Mets, they headed to Ground Zero to lend moral support to those going through the rubble.
"They were still searching for survivors," Yost said. "We were there with the Port Authority police. I remember walking into that area and there was a blackboard with 40 or so names on it, and there were stars on three of the names. A policeman told us that those were the names of policemen that were missing and the stars are the ones they'd recovered so far."
Yost's memory of the scene is still vivid.
"They were still looking for survivors at that point," he said. "The building was still smoking. You could still smell the jet fuel. They were digging. There was a line of guys digging where they thought there might be a stairwell. They were digging with their bare hands and five-gallon buckets. When the building collapsed, it vaporized the concrete. There were no blocks of concrete anywhere. It was just steel and dust. It was incredible to witness it firsthand."
Back at Shea, Ventura was privy to a memorable scene, too, with firefighters setting up camp there to sleep in shifts. The Mets eventually began going through workouts to get ready for their series with the Pirates, and they were joined at Shea by the firefighters, some of whom took batting practice and ground balls.
Ventura has his sensory-based memory, as well, and it brings back strong emotions of that experience each time. It happens each time he hears bagpipes.
"You get emotional every time you hear them because that's pretty much all we heard from September through the end of the year, and that's really the thought that comes up, thinking about the first game back in New York," Ventura said, referring to a game against Yost's Braves. "When the bagpipes came through center field [before the game], it was a tough moment for everybody."
The end of that game brought an entirely different set of emotions. Mike Piazza's game-winning home run helped ease some of the tension and somberness, which Yost and Ventura felt firsthand.
"When we played our game at Shea, you didn't know if you should smile, crack a joke or do any of that, and it was still tough to do that," Ventura said. "There's a lot of families that were there that had lost somebody. Kids had lost their dads. You didn't necessarily know what to do ... I know everyone's probably seen the home run Piazza hit. It's hard to just say how important that was, but it really was. It was just kind of the defining moment [that] people could cheer, people could hug each other and laugh and root for their team again."
Brian Hedger is a contributor to MLB.com based in Chicago. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.