Mets, baseball set to pause for 9/11

Mets, baseball set to pause for 9/11

NEW YORK -- Six years have now passed since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, each one of them coated in its own unique blend of fear and hope. And while six-year anniversaries don't usually heed much more than an appreciative nod, Tuesday stands as a stark exception.

Sept. 11, after all, has changed our perspective on a great many things.

So as Americans again prepare to remember this generation's darkest day, baseball stands ready to bow its collective head and tip its collective hat. The shock has worn off -- perhaps as much as it ever will -- but the memories still burn brightly from a tragedy that didn't just hit close to home.

It did hit home.

"None of us wants to forget what happened that day," said Mets pitcher Tom Glavine. "To forget not only the lives that were lost of the people who were working, but the lives that were lost of the people who went down there to help."

So to that end, the Mets, like all of baseball, aim to keep those memories intact. Prior to Tuesday night's game against the Braves, they'll again offer up their respects by ditching their regular caps in favor of specialty hats from the New York City Fire Department, Police Department and others. Each Met player will autograph his game-worn cap and donate it to Mets.com for an online charity auction to support the families of those emergency workers who lost their lives in the attacks.

Regina Wilson, a Brooklyn firefighter who was on duty the morning of the tragedy, will sing the national anthem as part of a small pregame ceremony at Shea Stadium, while ballparks across baseball will stencil ribbon jewels on their bases and lineup cards, and Major Leaguers will wear an American flag patch on the sides of their hats.

The specialty caps are a gesture that the Mets have embraced ever since that first year -- and in the subsequent anniversaries, they've regularly received requests to sport the colors of particular service organizations around the city. This year, they'll don caps from eight different organizations: the FDNY, NYPD, Port Authority Police, Office of Emergency Management, New York State Court Officers, Emergency Medical Services, the Police Department K-9 Unit and the New York City Bomb Squad.

It's a nod of respect from a team that, despite not retaining a single player from the 2001 club that sewed together a nation, still very much feels that year's effects.

"It was definitely a surreal moment no matter where you were," said Aaron Heilman, then a Minor Leaguer visiting his future wife in San Francisco. "Now that we have gotten to know some people in New York, we have a better sense of what it must have been like."

It was an awful era of healing and worry, which is why the sport assumed such an important role. Major League Baseball suspended play for six days, eventually bracing itself and hoping that the decision to return would be the right one.

"I remember how I agonized about when to come back," Commissioner Bud Selig said five years later. "And that was tough, because you really didn't know and you wanted to do the right thing."

Turns out he did.

New Yorkers appreciated it perhaps more than anyone, when Mike Piazza hit a dramatic home run to lead the Mets over the Braves in the city's first game since the attacks. The emotions of that night were strong enough -- even for the briefest of moments -- to help a pained city smile.

Glavine was at that game, soaking in everything from the Atlanta bench. He remembers much of the night in acute detail -- and his starkest memory was that for perhaps the only time in his 21-year-career, he really didn't mind losing.

"It was one of those instances where you think there's kind of a higher authority watching over," Glavine said. "You knew walking away what it meant to the people in the stadium and to the people in the city, and for one night, you could kind of overlook the fact that you lost the game."

Moments such as that one are precisely why baseball feels it's so important to remember. The sport paid homage last year on the fifth anniversary of the attacks, emblazoning the words "We Shall Not Forget" in every corner of stadiums across baseball. Every ballpark that hosted a game that day also featured a ceremony, complete with moments of silence and rousing applause.

And while the Mets were in Miami, miles away from Ground Zero, they weren't the least bit removed. They know how important they were -- and still are -- to so many who were affected. And they know that even though they've already done their part a thousand times over, they'd like to continue doing it for as long as they can.

Six years has erased little from baseball's collective consciousness. So as a country continues to march forward, many within the game maintain that it's not just appropriate, but utterly necessary to keep this candle burning with every year that passes.

"It's a tragedy, still," said Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca. "I'm glad we're going to have some ceremonies. A lot of people think it's over. But it's not over for the families or the victims. We should always remember."

Anthony DiComo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.