And then there was Sept. 21, 2001, the first baseball game in New York City after 9/11. I was one of more than 41,000 who came to Shea that night wondering if I really wanted to see a game, or if I was just there to huddle with other New Yorkers, all of us still undone by shock and grief and struggling to muster whatever defiance we could.
After long security lines, a 21-gun salute, and cheers for cops, firefighters, emergency responders, soldiers and even the visiting Braves, who left the third-base line to offer the Mets handshakes and hugs, there was baseball to be played – and the Mets and Braves turned in a taut thriller, which we at first watched almost grudgingly, distracted and wondering if it were right to invest so much emotion in something that had been revealed as just a game.
It was Liza Minnelli, of all people, who broke the ice, assembling a seventh-inning-stretch kick line of police and firefighters and singing the heck out of “New York, New York,” giving the old chestnut a feeling of hard-earned triumph. But it was Mr. Piazza at the plate in the bottom of the eighth, with the Mets down 2-1, one out and a runner on first. He connected with an 0-1 pitch, one of those drives that even a neophyte fan knows instantly is gone. Before it cleared the fence, the entire ballpark was up, screaming with the euphoric release brought by a big moment in an unbearably tense game.
That one swing didn’t bring back anyone who had been lost, or shed any light on the long, difficult road we were to tread. But while no one was going to forget about bigger things, that homer made it OK for us to get lost again in the anxiety and drama and glee of a little thing like who won or lost a baseball game. And that’s far from nothing.