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Game can play small role as we grieve, unite

Game can play small role as we grieve, unite

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This story was originally published on MLB.com in 2001.

NEW YORK -- Our otherwise gorgeous view has been violated by a haunting off-white cloud.

The offices of MLB.com sit on Manhattan's lower west side, about two miles from the World Trade Center and mere blocks from an area littered with ashes and debris.

It is a neighborhood shaken by terrorism. Across one street is St. Vincent's Hospital, ready but quiet in light of ugliness too severe for survival. Across another street, an upscale rec facility fills the need for a rescue staging area, donation center and morgue. This way for injuries; that way for death.

From here, the aftermath of Tuesday's hijackings, crashes and the collapse of two globally recognized towers is eerie beyond explanation.

Yet, something significant was clear on three subsequent days of walks from Midtown toward Chelsea and a forever-changed workplace. New York is responding to this brush with hell in a remarkable display of order, resolve and heroism.

What any of this has to do with Major League Baseball is a fair question. The answer? Nothing. And everything.

Make no mistake, where the world goes now has little to do with trivial ballgames or entertainment options. In reality, the connection of our nation's healing process with baseball is no different than its connection with major sports in general, or with films, concerts, parades and Broadway shows -- any events where people gather and enjoy the very gift of life.

Symbolically, though, as we hit the pause button on our digital cable, e-mails and bumper-to-bumper SUVs, live sporting events do tend to beckon like shaded porch swings, as a break from unwelcome stress and a place for families and friends to chat away the hours. And the game of Ruth and Gehrig, of Musial and Robinson, of Koufax, Clemente and Aaron, has been there for generations, swaying back and forth.

Beginning Monday, baseball is in position to play a meaningful role as citizens congregate, vent and reflect while next steps unfold. But it would not be sufficient to proceed with ballgames as mere vehicles of escape from this utterly offensive news.

As America's pastime, and as a game with growing international reach, baseball has the responsibility to carry an honorable torch and to effectively communicate defining messages. Like America itself, baseball is resilient and empowered to inspire. It is U.S. history, in many ways, with every season a patch on our country's for-better-or-worse quilt.

And so at these crossroads, Major League ballparks sit, waiting, ultimately prepared for goosebumps -- the kind brought by this global game's decisive moments and exceptional players, yes; but more important, for the goosebumps that cover the skin when total strangers hold hands, when candles are lit, songs are sung and flags are waved, when expressions of solidarity and strength are captured for the world to see.

This resumption of games is not about attendance. It is not about fresh network programming. It is not about preventing a postseason that creeps toward Thanksgiving. Nobody could care less about those things under these circumstances.

Our worlds have been inundated and dazed by unmeasurable misery and everlasting loops of footage, scenes that horrify from every televised angle. Miles of Manhattan walls, lampposts and windows are papered with handbills about the unaccounted for, their photos borrowed from everyday frames and albums, each human face grabbing our hearts far more than any crumbled buildings ever will.

The time for a public postcard and an honest display of patriotism is here. Living goes on. No spin, no rehearsals necessary, just the gathering places. The rest takes care of itself. Today's New Yorkers are Exhibit A of that. From the medical community, firefighters, the mayor and police, to the street vendors, volunteers, people of all sexes, faiths and races, New York is showing the calm kindness and community of a gigantic small town. And this, in the shadow of unprecedented shock.

It seems improper to try putting Tuesday's events in the context of anything that preceded them. We've heard mention of Pearl Harbor, the assassinations of President Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Oklahoma City bombing, on and on, as if a scorecard ranking past ordeals is necessary. Let's be honest. Every last recollection of disturbing, frozen infamy on our planet need not be reduced to comparative reference material. Still more out of place is any serious mention of action films or spy novels as similar to the hideous mass murder that has occurred.

To the larger point, our world is looking forward already, with little ones and their humbled role models praying for answers, learning from trauma and angry at the capabilities of evil. That anger is unmistakable here in New York, yet under control. People appear grim-faced but kind-hearted at once as they make their way along sidewalks. Eye contact is a good deal more frequent than before, less awkward, not accidental.

Tuesday, to be sure, a bond was reborn, America the beautiful. It is easy to spot in a crowd, in the flood of funerals to come, in houses of worship, vigils, at the shopping malls and stadiums, in every eye. Tears, silence and determined stares speak volumes.

The cloud outside our office windows kept shifting slowly all week, growing at its base in a gray fog. It behaved as if obligated to remain, concealing this frightful raw gash in our skyline. It is not necessary. New York has gotten on with the process of recovery, of focus on the souls and not the rubble.

But what will people see when this unnatural, smoky haze is gone? A reminder of hatred, enemies and emptiness? Once-magnificent towers, hard-working people and a hopeful tomorrow? Count on our memories to paint it both ways, depending on the day.

Any view toward Wall Street aside, people from coast to coast have something profound to share right now. And that is, an honest portrait of our free and brave public, of Old Glory and new momentum.

With every necessary precaution taken, each ballpark has the chance to accompany many of us on a portion of the journey from mourning to rejuvenation.

The power and sounds of people by the thousands singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" and about beautiful, spacious skies can only help.

Dinn Mann, senior vice president and editor-in-chief of MLB.com, is based in New York. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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