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Orioles and Yankees Remember 9/11

September 12, 2006

By Craig Heist

Five years ago the sports world, along with the rest of the world, came to a standstill as our nation was attacked by terrorists.

The games stopped, and for the people who played them, it just didn't seem to matter. Everyone, it seems, remembers where they were and what they were doing on Sept. 11, 2001 and recall knowing the events of that day would change their lives in some way.

Photo: Sabina Moran/PressBox
The Orioles were scheduled to play a home game that evening against the Toronto Blue Jays, and Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo, then the third base coach, soon found out that the game was not going to happen.

"I remember being in an apartment and having not turned the TV on," Perlozzo said. "A friend of mine from Ocean City was coming up to the game and he called me and asked if we were still having a game. I didn't know what he was talking about. He said we are under attack and I said, 'What are you talking about?' He said 'You better turn the TV on.' I was just shocked and I couldn't believe what I was watching, and shortly after that they cancelled everything."

Yankees manager Joe Torre remembers the day vividly and how his immediate thoughts turned to his young daughter.

"Five years ago, my daughter was 5 years old," Torre said. "That was the first person who came to my mind because I was home. I was trying to find a TV set to turn on cartoons so she wouldn't be watching what we were watching. From that moment on, that was the thing that frightened me the most, that my daughter would grow up without the same freedoms I did.

Even if it never happens again, which we hope it doesn't, the fact that it happened once gives you reason for pause. It makes you think about things we never had to think about as kids because if there was any kind of conflict, it would be somewhere else, and it always hit home for me that way."

The events of Sept. 11 affected the Yankees like no other team in Major League Baseball, and Torre soon found out how important the Yankees would become to a city trying to recover and heal from the worst tragedy in the nation's history.

Photo: Mitch Stringer/PressBox
"We didn't understand that until we went to visit the armory on the Saturday after the bombings," Torre said. "We went into the armory and people were awaiting DNA results on family members. We didn't know if we should be there. We walked in there and the families, they were with all different kinds of clergy and counselors and it initially felt so morbid, but then they look and they recognize Bernie Williams or (Derek) Jeter or myself and they opened up their arms and said, 'Come on over here' and I think at that time we realized they needed for us to play baseball.

"Bernie went up to this one women and he just stood there and said, 'I don't know exactly what to say, but you look like you could use a hug,' and he grabbed her and hugged her, and I don't think I will ever forget that moment."

For many of the players there was just so much disbelief and uncertainty.

Yankees catcher Jorge Posada was watching what was happening in the city while at the same time trying to care for his hospitalized son.

"I was changing channels because he wanted to watch videos," Posada said. "While I was changing the tape, I had the news on the TV. I stopped the video and started watching the news. At first I couldn't believe it. So, I rewound the tape but I was still curious, so I put the news back on, and all of the sudden, here comes the second plane into the building.

"So, I told the nurse, can you unhook my son from all the IVs that he was on because I didn't know what was going on and I wanted to take my son with me. They were like, 'You can't do that, sir.' Everyone was pretty alarmed in the hospital. They were cleaning a lot of the rooms in case they were bringing people in, but no one came in.

"I called the Yankees. I called Derek, Joe Torre and everyone seemed to be occupied and they told me to stay with my son and don't worry about the game right now.."

Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina found out what was going on after his wife called him shortly after 9:30 that morning.

"It was like watching a movie on television, but in the back of my mind I knew it was really happening," Mussina said. "The rest of that day and the days to follow there were so many questions and so many unanswered things, and everyone was kind of taking it all in but it was nothing but confusion. Nobody did anything, you hardly saw anyone out."

When the Yankees finally did get back on the field it was a week later in Chicago against the White Sox. The Yankees felt they weren't just another baseball team, but one playing in some ways for an entire nation.

Yankees bench coach and former Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said, "I can remember when we did go back and play and we opened in Chicago and there were signs there, and one of the signs there said, and I will never forget it, 'We are all Yankee fans' and it kind of hit home."

Yet, Williams wasn't sure the Yankees or any other team should have been playing even a week after the tragedy.

"It didn't make any sense to me," Williams said. "It was just too overwhelming, the set of circumstances. It just seemed that anything that happened in the game was just so trivial in comparison to what was happening in our nation.

"That first game, to see the reaction of the crowd and everyone rooting for us, it seemed like - I wouldn't say escape and I wouldn't say distraction. I would say it just gave us a sense of hope that everything was going to be OK."

The Yankees were in the midst of a playoff run and an eventual trip to the World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. During that time they played "God Bless America" at Yankee Stadium during the seventh inning stretch, and it has been played there every day since the tragedy to honor the people who lost loved ones and also to honor the men and women in the armed forces.

"I think the one thing that has come out of all of this is recognizing the people we took for granted all those years, the emergency people, the firefighters, the police and what they did" said Torre. "They basically laid their lives on the line because that's their job."

"Maybe that's the way it should be," Mussina said. "Being a New York team, maybe we should spend 30 seconds a day, or 45 seconds a day, whatever it is, remembering that was one of our worst days and yet we are still going, we are still New York and we have to keep life alive and remember those we lost and remember there are still things to accomplish."

Perlozzo says he didn't get a sense of how to feel until he visited Ground Zero when the Orioles played the Yankees in New York later in the month.

"I just could not believe what I was seeing," he said. "It was just one of those things where I remember having tears in my eyes during the pre-game thing. I am just happy that we have rebounded."

Issue 1.21: September 14, 2006