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Where were they? Players recall 9/11 events

Where were they? Players recall 9/11 events

Where were they? Players recall 9/11 events
The images are frozen. But time marches on, sweeping across the Major Leagues' ever-changing landscape.

For the relatively few players who were already established in the Majors on Sept. 11, 2001, the horrors and memories of that day will forever be a common bond. But most of today's headliners suffered and wondered in isolation, kids or novice professionals embarking on lives and careers suddenly turned uncertain.

Mark Teixeira was in the thickest fog. Drafted in the first round three months earlier by Texas, the 21-year-old had finally signed 2 1/2 weeks before New York smoldered.

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"I was 21 years old, starting my professional career, and basically thinking the world was going to change," Teixeira said. "In a lot of ways, it did."

Teixeira was driving from his parents' Baltimore home to Atlanta, to spend a couple of weeks with future wife, Leigh, before heading to the instructional league. He'd hit the road again after spending the night in North Carolina, when Leigh called.

"She said, 'Did you hear what happened?' She told me about it, and I couldn't believe it. I finished the drive," Teixeira said, "and as soon as I got to my apartment in Atlanta, I started watching the news. It was on pretty much the whole week. While I was growing up, we had the Gulf War, and that was important. But we never had anything that you worried about in America, that people were bringing a war to you."

Justin Upton, the D-backs' two-time All Star outfielder, was a ninth-grader at Great Bridge High School in Chesapeake, Va. -- about three hours from the Pentagon.

He was in history class.

"A voice came on the loudspeaker, saying what happened. We turned the TVs on and sat there, watching the coverage," Upton said. "We were in shock, as a school and as a community. In the area where I grew up, there were a lot of military kids. So it hit us pretty hard."

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On the West Coast, high school junior Jacoby Ellsbury wasn't yet in class. Upon awakening, he got the first word that something terrible was happening. Ellsbury turned 18 on Sept. 11, 2001. There weren't many "Happy Birthday" wishes from his Madras [Ore.] High School classmates.

"I was on my way to school when I kind of heard everything," Ellsbury said. "At school, we turned on all the TVs and saw everything unfold. At the beginning, I don't think anyone really knew what was going on. It's hard to believe it's been 10 years."

Giants ace Tim Lincecum, also on the West Coast, was unaware of the developments until his first period class at Liberty [Renton, Wash.] High School -- U.S. history.

"We just watched the news all day," said Lincecum, a sophomore at the time. "Shock ... my first reaction was anger. In that situation, you want to defend yourself. But there was nothing we could do about it. It was one of those things that you can't believe it happened."

Thirteen-year-old Clayton Kershaw was in eighth-grade Social Studies class in Dallas, and the teacher turned on the TV -- then just as quickly turned it off.

"She didn't know [if] we should see it," Kershaw said. "My mom came to school and said we're going home. I said I couldn't go. We had a football game that day. She told me there was no game. I didn't really get it at the time. It soon became pretty clear. It was really tragic."

Detroit ace Justin Verlander was trying to adjust to his first week of classes as an 18-year-old freshman at Old Dominion University.

"I was in class. I was scared," Verlander said. "Everybody was kind of freaking out. We thought maybe they might try to evacuate our campus, because we were so close to the Norfolk [Va.] Naval Base. [But we] were really pretty sheltered in college."

Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler was a 19-year-old junior at Central Arizona. He was ditching class, asleep in his dorm room, when his roommate roused him.

"My roommate came in, hit me on the back and said, 'You better get up, we're getting attacked,'" Kinsler said. "He was always playing jokes on me to get me out of bed, so I said, 'Be quiet' and rolled over. He came back in a minute later and said, 'Seriously, you better get up, something is happening.'

"I turned on the TV and couldn't believe what I was seeing. I thought it was the Discovery Channel or something, something crazy on. I couldn't believe it. For 10 seconds, I couldn't figure it out. I just stood there in silence."

Orlando Hudson was a 23-year-old prospect about to embark on the travels that would take him through five big league clubhouses. He had just finished the Minor League season with Toronto's Syracuse affiliate and was hanging out at his parents' Darlington, S.C., home, packing for the Arizona Fall League.

"I was just relaxing, and my mom told me what happened. I told her, 'Hey, no way, that's just someone playing on the computer,' and I went back to my room to chill," Hudson said. "I was getting my stuff together before heading out, when my mom [came] in.

"'Another plane went into the building!'" she exclaimed.

"'Come on, Mom. Nobody is going to run into two of the most famous buildings in America,'" he replied. "'You know it isn't for real.'

"But there it was," Hudson said, with a forlorn shake of his head. "Sad times."

Florida catcher John Buck was a 21-year-old Royals farmhand, busing with his Lexington teammates to Ashville, N.C., and the start of a postseason series.

"All of a sudden, as we were driving, the bus driver turned on the radio," Buck said. "We were like, 'What is this guy doing? Why are you waking us up?' It was early in the morning.

"He was like, 'You all need to listen to this.' He turned it up and we happened to hear what was going on," added Buck, who recalled truck drivers on the road leaning on their horns to alert people that something extraordinary was happening.

When the bus pulled into their Ashville hotel parking lot, Buck and his teammates immediately filed into the lobby, "and it seemed like everyone in the hotel was down there watching TV. Right as we walked in, we got in at the time the second plane hit the building."

Others were already in the Majors, playing a little boy's game at a man's level in the formative stages of careers still going strong today.

Ted Lilly was a 25-year-old swing pitcher on the Yankees' staff, virtually torn between his Major League dreams and patriotism. He felt a strong motivation to step alongside Pat Tillman -- the Arizona football player who ditched the NFL for the armed forces.

"Being right there, smelling the burning every day, I was pretty angry," Lilly said. "I had some crazy thoughts. I mean, I loved playing baseball and loved playing for the Yankees. But I had thoughts that maybe I should be supporting my country and [should] volunteer for the military. I respect that [Tillman] had the courage to follow his heart. It's a tough decision. You think about when you come back, will you ever be able to play Major League Baseball again? I wanted to do it. I wanted to do both."

CC Sabathia was putting the September touches on a fabulous (17-5) rookie season as a 21-year-old in the Cleveland Indians' rotation. He was awakened in the team's hotel in Kansas City by a phone call from a friend.

"He told me that a plane had crashed into the building. We sat up and watched as the second plane crashed," Sabathia said. "It was pretty crazy. I remember it like it was yesterday."

Sabathia tore himself away from the TV images to make only one phone call -- to Amber, his future wife, who was attending San Diego State University.

"I just called her to see if she saw what was going on, and she said that all of her classes got canceled," Sabathia said.

Lance Berkman was a 25-year-old outfielder closing in on the end of a strong sophomore season for the Houston Astros. Following an off-day at home, he was out having breakfast with his wife when she got a cell call from her mother.

"She told her basically what was going on, because we weren't near a TV or anything," Berkman said. "I remember getting the news coming out of the restaurant, and going home and hearing everything else unfold on TV. Then, the game was canceled, and we didn't play for a week. It was just weird."

Torii Hunter was in the Twins' team hotel in Detroit, awakening and getting out of bed to use the restroom. He had fallen asleep with the television on. The image flickering on the screen immediately caught his attention when he returned to his bed.

"I just saw one burning building on the TV, and I'm thinking, 'What kind of movie is this?' I'm still half asleep," Hunter said. "Ten minutes later, the airplane flew into the second building. Live. And I was like, 'Man, did this just happen?' I just stayed up all night, calling people I knew in New York, people I knew in D.C. All the planes were grounded, and we took a 12-hour bus ride back to Minneapolis. We were all in shock."

Mark Buehrle was in Manhattan, along with the other White Sox who had arrived in the wee hours of Sept. 11 for a series in the Bronx. A 22-year-old bachelor nearing the end of his first full season in the big leagues, Buehrle was at first angry about Kip Wells giving him an early wake-up call, then his emotions quickly turned to "freaked out and scared."

"I woke up and realized what was going on after turning the TV on," Buehrle said. "I met some guys in the lobby to see what was going on and what our plans were. I can still picture standing in the lobby, and walking down the street and going to dinner that night. I can picture everything as clear as can be."

Buehrle's highly anticipated first look at Yankee Stadium had to wait. There were no games, no normalcy. Only an acute yearning for both, as Buehrle's ultimate boss, White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, recalled.

"When something like that happens, you've got to get back to normal," Reinsdorf said. "As long as we weren't playing, things weren't normal."

Eight days later, the National Pastime returned. Ten years later, the nation's comeback continues.

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

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