Against all fear, regardless of team colors, 41,235 Americans gathered at Shea Stadium. They hoped beyond all hope to join a march toward normalcy, trying to regain the cheers that were lost following the most horrific event in their nation's history.
New York looked to baseball in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and there stood Mike Piazza in the bottom of the eighth inning -- carrying a city with every swing. Ten days after the World Trade Center collapsed, with smoke still billowing from Ground Zero, he'd test the healing powers of one swing in the fan's No. 2 moment in Shea Stadium history.
A native New Yorker, Braves pitcher Steve Karsay, served it up. And the Mets catcher, who donated his $68,000 game check to the relief efforts, gave an even greater gift -- the ovations that followed a two-run home run over the center-field wall -- propelling the home team to a 3-2 win in its first action since a country had begun to grieve.
"I'm just so happy I gave the people something to cheer," Piazza said that night. "There was a lot of emotion. It was just a surreal sort of energy out there. I'm just so proud to be a part of it tonight."
Piazza's stroke added a dramatic flair to a night that celebrated the city's strength. Liza Minnelli sang, "New York, New York," Mets manager Bobby Valentine orchestrated a "Rudy! Rudy!" chant for mayor Rudy Giuliani, and bitter division rivals became united in remembering those not in the stands, donating more than $450,000 in pay to the families of slain firefighters and police officers.
Home-plate umpire Wally Bell would later take the ceremonial first pitch ball, give it to Giuliani and ask him to pass it along to someone special, which he said would be a child who lost his father. As the Mets held their hats to their hearts during the national anthem -- their caps absent a logo but instead the symbols of heroes in the NYFD, NYPD and Port Authority -- many were stirred to tears.
"These people are great," Piazza said. "New York has been so strong through all this. I feel so sad. I met two kids today who lost their fathers."
And however small the gesture seemed, in Piazza they met their hero.
Jon Blau is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.