SEATTLE -- On Sept. 21, 2001, current Royals manager Ned Yost was a coach on the Atlanta Braves that was to oppose the Mets, as a shaken but determined New York prepared to welcome back Major League Baseball that night. So his 9/11 memories are not so much on that tragic day but the aftermath.
"We were the first sporting event back in New York City, we went back to play the Mets. So groups of us went down to Ground Zero, 10 days after," Yost said. "Still on fire, still burning, they were still looking for survivors, with 5-gallon buckets."
Yost went with players Javy Lopez and Brian Jordan. Several other Braves players and members of the Mets also were invited into the restricted area around the World Trade Center to say thanks and give a boost to the rescue workers.
"It was surreal to go in there with the Port Authority police and people were under girders, just digging out handfuls of dirt trying to find people. There was a line of 50 guys digging because they thought that there was a stairwell there and they were hoping they'd find survivors," Yost recalled. "They said that this would be the last day that they were looking for survivors, they were going to go to recovery the next day. But it was still smoking, still burning. It was unbelievable."
It was an emotional experience for Yost and the players and he felt it was a morale boost for the "bone-tired" firefighters, police and other rescue workers.
"We walked into the Port Authority office and they had a big blackboard with just rows of names of their officers that they hadn't found yet. Thirty or 35 of them," Yost said. "The thing that struck me [was] that when the buildings fell down, it was all concrete, glass and steel. But there was no concrete, it was pulverized. You didn't see any blocks of concrete. All you saw was steel and dust and glass everywhere. I picked up a piece of glass and it was burnt, it was singed. There were papers everywhere. I picked up a plaque that had ridden down; the wooden back was gone but the metal was there and it was all crumpled. It was for a guy who was given an award from ... some club. I gave it to the Port Authority police and he said he'd give it back to his family.
"It was vivid, the smell. You could still smell the jet fuel and the burning. The buildings were down, it was just a pile. You could look across and see a big hole in the [neighboring] building and what was that? They said it was where one of the jet engines just [went] through the World Trade Center and in through that other building. It was," Yost paused a moment in reflection, "something to see."
That night a crowd of more than 41,000 filled Shea Stadium for baseball's return to the stricken city. Bruce Chen, now with the Royals, was the starting pitcher for the Mets.
Chen recalled the city's sense of sadness in the days after the attack. But that night he saw something uplifting.
"We were like a big part of trying to bring a sense of normalcy to New York," he said. "I remember for the first time in a long time, I could see New Yorkers laughing, cheering and pumping up for the team. It was crazy -- for those three, 3 1/2 hours, people didn't forget but actually went out there and cheered for the team which took away some of the stuff they were thinking."
The Braves took a 2-1 lead into the eighth inning but then Mike Piazza belted a two-run homer for the Mets.
"They went nuts," Yost said.
"It was magical," Chen said.
And the Mets won, 3-2.
"When Mike Piazza hit that home run and we got ahead, it was like a sense of 'You know what, New York was winning and New York was going to be OK and New York can overcome a lot of stuff,'" said Chen. "And I know what happened was a lot bigger than just that game but for us to bring joy to people in New York for just those three or 3 1/2 hours ... that was just huge for us."
And for New York.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.