Don’t tell me about the world. Not today. It’s springtime and they’re knocking baseball around fields where the grass is damp and green in the morning and the kids are trying to hit the curve ball. – Pete Hamill
I’ve been at a loss for what to say today—particularly as there is no shortage of people who are saying something. Part of me had decided that I would say nothing. What could I write that would not echo what had already been said? As a New Yorker I can never forget. And as a New Yorker who entered adulthood as this tragedy unfolded, how I can possibly share how 9/11 shaped my life? We all felt something that day, and while those feelings may be grouped under the same headings of grief, disbelief, and anger, they were different for all of us. As an often proliferic person, even I have to say that words are not enough.
However, tonight I’m doing something that I did ten years ago. And I realize I do have something to say—I don’t have to say anything, but my voice, as were all of our voices, was important following 9/11 and is still important today. I want to tell you how I found that voice when we teetered on the edge of hopelessness and somehow found the strength to take the next step and reach for a semblance of normalcy.
For me, normalcy meant baseball.
On September 21st, 2001, the New York Mets hosted the first professional sporting event in New York City. Though the fear of gathering at such a public venue was still real and powerful, equally real and powerful was the need to reclaim my life. And so, with 40,000 other fans I took my place in the stands even while the space that would come to be known as Ground Zero continued to smolder.
That night was more than memorable, and there are countless records to that fact. The Mets went on to win against the Braves with a powerful homerun [video] by Mike Piazza. As that ball soared over the fence and Shea Stadium erupted, it would have been easy to suppose that we fans had been consumed by the game and that we had forgotten—swept up in the moment, as fans are wont to do. But to make this assumption would be a serious mistake. Piazza’s homerun did not let us forget. Rather, it helped drive the hopelessness back. It reminded us of our voices, and helped us hear the power that we possess united as one.
Today, all over America, in ballparks and football stadiums, sports honored first responders, those who were lost, and the solidarity that brought us forward to today, ten years later. And today, I am reminded just powerfully of the tiers of communities we belong to. Fandom is a strange state: It generates an external representation for individuals to a larger audience. People align themselves with teams that they feel represent some part of them—whether that reason is geography, tradition, or even team colors. Fans are extensions of the team. So while we have smaller, personal communities that we belong to, sports—like citizenship—allow us to belong to larger communities.
Piazza’s homerun propelled the Mets’ victory, and as the team is one of New York’s own, the victory was poignant. But everyone cheered Piazza’s homerun that night regardless of their allegiance—for that moment, we were all on the same team. We were all members of the larger community that wanted to hope. And our voices, sounding as one, helped bring us all back to a place where we could see the possibility of taking another step.
Baseball has been a part of my life’s narrative over the last ten years. There have been many games since September 21, 2001 where I stood in the stands and screamed myself hoarse. There was one playoff season where I hugged a random stranger in a moment of sheer exuberance. There were particularly devastating losses where my heart hurt and I wanted to lift the players on my shoulders, to carry them as they carried me—and all of us—when the future seemed darkest. And through these moments, also in the background, the Freedom Tower has risen. I’ve watched it grow as I pass it each afternoon on my way to the train. It continues to be a reminder that whatever differences divide us, we’re ultimately playing for the same team.
Tonight, as the New York Mets paid tribute to the memory of that pain, I am reminded of how we far we have come as a team—of how powerful we can be as a community.
I will never be silent. I will never forget.