Ten years later, a September morning brought the fulfilled promise of baseball played under the sun across the country, a day capped by an evening of America's pastime in New York City.
Baseball took time after a decade had passed to pause the way it did in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, which jolted a September 2001 morning with acts of terrorism and acts of humanity never to be forgotten.
As the country marked 10 years since its darkest day, baseball remembered as well in ballparks throughout the Majors on Sunday -- in ways that bring us all together across state and even national borders, and in ways that identify us with our individual communities and the true heroes among us.
Culminating at Citi Field -- under the shadow of two heaven-aimed beams of light marking the footprints where the World Trade Center once stood -- a total of 15 ballparks held tributes to victims and first responders, and saluted those who served and sacrificed so much in the years since 9/11.
In their own way, of course, the Mets forever hold tributes and memorials. On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, they were simply joined by the rest of the Major Leagues. In Queens, however, the occasion hit home. Because it was home.
As he did on Sept. 21, 2001, to signal the start of the first post-9/11 game in New York City, Marc Anthony sang the national anthem -- backed by a 30,000-square foot American flag unfurled in the outfield by first responders and families from the non-profit organization Tuesday's Children.
Anthony's final notes were drowned out by thousands of electric-candle-holding fans' "U-S-A! U-S-A!" chants.
Former closer John Franco stood on the mound and, after apparently wiping tears from his eyes, delivered a perfect first-pitch strike to Mike Piazza as the former Mets battery was ringed by members of eight New York City service agencies, including the Police Department and Fire Department.
"It definitely is painful looking back, thinking about that week and reflecting on it," Piazza said. "I thought the ceremony was very moving and just very well-done. I'm very proud to be a part of it, very humbled to be a part of it."
Indeed, it was with a mixture of humility and awe that the Major League community remembered events that forged heroes.
"It was a time that changed this country forever," Braves starter Tim Hudson said on Sunday, before facing the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. "None of us will ever forget those involved. They are still our heroes."
In Pittsburgh, a two-hour drive from the Pennsylvania countryside where United Flight 93 was heroically diverted by passengers from its evil mission, Corporal Ben Kiernan of the U.S. Marine Corps -- one of many true heroes -- made his way to the mound. He moved a bit slowly, but steadily, after nine surgeries to repair injuries suffered while serving in Afghanistan, and pitched from the stretch, delivering a strike with his ceremonial first pitch.
In Washington, where the Nationals had yet to bring baseball back to the nation's capital in 2001, the attack on the Pentagon was remembered with ticket proceeds going to the Pentagon Memorial Fund. Members of all military branches were honored -- alongside D.C.-area police, fire and rescue personnel -- before the game against the Astros.
"Coming to the ballpark this morning, you [could] see the Pentagon and the increased police activity, all of those things [which] bring everything to the front of your thinking," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "You think of what happened, it's such a big part of our history."
The Yankees, the other New York team so instrumental in applying the first salves of the healing process, were on the road. But their hosts in Anaheim ensured their role on this day of memories. Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera lined up alongside the Angels' Torii Hunter, Jered Weaver and Mike Scioscia to receive ceremonial first pitches from 9/11 first responders and Navy SEALS.
"I wish we were home with the people of New York," Posada said. "But we're here, and I'm really happy. I think everybody came together during 9/11 -- I think that's what we're doing again."
Robert Schiavone, at his request, had Posada on the receiving end of his first pitch. Now a member of the Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff's Department, Schiavone was part of the rescue mission with FDNY Ladder Company 39 on 9/11.
"The Yankees were a really big part of the healing process that year," Schiavone said. "The 2001 World Series was incredible. The Yankees showed resiliency."
Joe Torre, now Major League Baseball's head of on-field operations, attended the Angel Stadium ceremonies and lined up along the first-base line with his former team.
"We had an obligation," Torre said. "I didn't realize how important baseball was in the lives of certain people. Once our ballclub sensed that, it sort of motivated them even more in '01."
But the tragedy of 9/11 touched Americans beyond those communities directly hit by the horrific acts of destruction, and the healing continues in every corner of America.
Tributes graced the fields and touched hearts from coast to coast on Sunday. Here's a sampling:
On the South Side of Chicago, all of the White Sox and Indians joined U.S. Cellular Field fans in applauding every one of Nick Colgin's steps, as the combat medic strode to the mound to deliver the ceremonial first pitch.
Even Mark Buehrle clapped before squatting behind the plate to catch the emotional delivery, which culminated a moving 15-minute tribute to the victims and heroes of 9/11 -- highlighted by on-field salutes to members of the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Chicago Police Department and Chicago Fire Department, as well as pilots and flight attendants from United Airlines and American Airlines.
Colgin, 26, has taken part in more than 700 combat patrols in Afghanistan, where sometimes he "never thought I'd make it back here." The soldier saved by Colgin after being shot in the head made it back. The 42 Afghanis saved from a flooding river by Colgin made it back ashore. Colgin made it back to the middle of the U.S. Cellular Field diamond.
"The reason I served was Sept. 11, so just to be here and throw out the first pitch means the world to me," Colgin said. "I never thought I'd be able to make it back or do something like this. There's nothing more American than going to a baseball game."
In San Francisco, a poignant gesture replaced the traditional ceremonial first pitch: Giants manager Bruce Bochy, hatless, strode to the AT&T Park mound and gently placed a baseball on the middle of the pitching rubber.
There the ball remained -- untouched; red (stitching), white and blue (imprint) -- through a moment of silence, during which fans held aloft 8-by-10-inch cards with the American flag on one side and the name of a 9/11 victim on the other.
In Phoenix, Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising" set the mood as the D-backs -- the Yankees' partners in the 2001 World Series -- and the Padres joined the salute to first responders.
As in San Francisco, a lone baseball was placed atop the mound, this one by Arizona Sen. John McCain, who draped his arm around D-backs starting pitcher Josh Collmenter for a military band's rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner."
In St. Petersburg, the Rays and Red Sox took part in a pregame ceremony that included 100 local first responders unfurling a huge American flag, and 18 local fire chiefs, police chiefs and military personnel throwing out the ceremonial first pitch -- a contingent that included Tampa Fire and Rescue Capt. Mark Bogush, who was dispatched with his search-and-rescue dog, Marley, to Ground Zero after the attack. Tributes throughout the ballpark included a steel beam from the rubble of the World Trade Center and a wall where fans could write messages to 9/11 victims.
Red Sox veteran Jason Varitek believes there's a primary theme behind these tributes.
"You reach out to those people who have lost family, friends, etc., in the most tragic thing that's ever happened here," Varitek said.
In Milwaukee, veterans of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard combined to throw out the first pitch. Major General Don Dunbar of Wisconsin's National Guard was recognized on the field, and recently retired Greenfield, Wis., fire chief Russ Spahn sang the national anthem.
The day before, catcher Jonathan Lucroy met with a true hero, a Navy SEAL who was watching the Brewers prepare for their game against the Phillies.
"I told him, 'Dude, you come out and watch us take batting practice and think it's awesome; I think what you do is awesome,'" Lucroy said. "We can play this game because of what guys like that do for us. That's one of the greatest things a lot of us take for granted. Those guys sacrifice their lives for us."
In St. Louis, the Cardinals had Angela Brock-Bokern, who survived the attack on the World Trade Center, throw out the ceremonial first pitch to superstar Albert Pujols. All types of first responders were honored on the field, including St. Louis County police chief Col. Tim Fitch, St. Louis City police chief Col. Daniel Isom and St. Louis Fire Department chief Dennis Jenkerson.
And everyone there remembered something about that terrible day.
"I flew out of Newark on Sept. 10 after the  season ended," said Cardinals infielder Skip Schumaker, who was a first-year professional in the New York-Penn League at the time. "There's a lot of emotion. I'm sure everybody has a story, they knew somebody or something. This day is about more than just a game."
In Seattle, the Mariners and Royals lined up along Safeco Field's foul lines, shoulder-to-shoulder with first responders from the greater Puget Sound area as the Seattle and Eastside Pipes and Drums played a haunting rendition of "Amazing Grace."
Mariners broadcaster Rick Rizz recited Jack Buck's poem, "We Shall Overcome." Former Seattle infielder Mark McLemore flashed back to the days after he'd first heard those words -- when the Mariners celebrated clinching the '01 AL West title, not with bubbly but with bubbling patriotic pride, circling the field with hoisted flags.
"That was probably the most special moment in my career ... in my life," McLemore said. "Just being able to hold that flag, I wasn't holding it as a ballplayer, but as an American. We felt we were celebrating not only with each other or our fans, but we felt like we were celebrating with the world, because we had all gone through so much over that past week. It was very humbling for me to be a part of that."
In Detroit, before the Tigers and Twins met, 10 area individuals who went to New York City after the attacks gathered to throw out ceremonial first pitches. Among the group was Pat Holland, who has worked for the Southeastern Michigan chapter of the American Red Cross for 18 years and will never forget what happened then, sometimes looking through mementos from the horrific event.
"Every now and then, you take a look at them to keep you grounded," he said. "You were a part of this. I'm glad we can help. I hope it never happens again, but I'm glad I was able to help out."
Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello was among those who received a first pitch from the 10 who were determined to help out in America's time of crisis.
"I thought it was great, and I thought it was absolutely necessary to remember the ones that had fallen on that day and also recognize the men and women that are doing the job now," Porcello said.
In Toronto, the Toronto Police Color Guard was on hand for the moment of silence, and Damien Walsh of the Toronto Fire Services sang both the Canadian and American national anthems. Blue Jays manager John Farrell was among those who had a personal experience with the tragic events.
"In many aspects, it feels like it was yesterday," Farrell said. "Having grown up in the New York area, there were four people from my hometown that were in the World Trade Center, unfortunately, on that morning.
"I think we all look back when that second plane struck, because we saw it on TV. We know exactly where we were at that moment. Just a tragic day all around."
As baseball remembered that day 10 years later on Sunday, tributes continued across the country, leading up to the anticipated events at Citi Field.
As the sun set over New York, and the blue beams of Ground Zero glowed against the darkening skies, two familiar cries -- so different, yet so central to being able to move forward -- alternately reverberated around Citi Field:
"We shall never forget" and "Play ball!"
John Schlegel and Tom Singer are national reporters for MLB.com. Numerous MLB.com reporters contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.