Sept. 11 aftermath: Not just another baseball game

Joseph Pugliese, Sports Columist

I was only 10 years old when Sept. 11, changed an entire city and entire country.
It is the one day I remember more clearly than any other day of my life.  It took almost 10 days to feel anything but fear, anxiety and overall depression in both my house and in the community.
On Sept. 21, 2001, for the first time in 10 days it felt like everything would be OK.
I grew up in Staten Island, a borough of New York City, only a 20-minute ferry ride away from downtown Manhattan.
My mother at the time worked for Deutsche Bank in their building at 130 Liberty Street, her office and building faced the South Tower, 2 World Trade Center. During the attacks the building was severely damaged, a 24-story gash was torn into the building where my mother’s office resided.
I was in fifth grade at the time in St. Clare’s Elementary School when the attacks happened. The school essentially froze; only confusion and disorder ensued; nothing was taught that day.  The teachers could not tell us what had happened for the simple fact no one knew if anyone’s parents worked at the Trade Center. Parents kept showing up all morning to pick up their children. Classes got smaller; we had gotten more and more confused.
I heard from one child in my class who had a cell phone what had happened, a plane had hit the world trade center. For the next hour, I was in a fog of disbelief and worry for my mother.
My father and grandmother came to pick me and my brother up around 11 a.m. that day, as I waited on the line to leave I asked my father what had happened, he told me he would explain later. I asked, “Where is mom?” He did not respond.
We arrived home and walked into my house and there was my mother sitting in her chair, blankly staring into the TV with the news on, her jacket covered in soot.
Joy reached myself, brother, father and grandmother. She had walked into her building as the first plane hit the tower, a security guard ran in and told her to leave immediately, and as she departed she saw the second plane hit the building.
That day my mother got the last ferry off Manhattan Island; the only person in her building who did not make it home that day or any day after that was the security guard who told her to leave.
For the next 10 days all my family did was watch the news, every day, same thing over and over again.
Funerals were abundant at our local church, for both victims and servicemen that were part of the first responders that were part of the community.
My back yard had the background of the smoke from the debris of the towers in the distance that shot across the sky like a never ending rain cloud.
This was the new normal until Sept. 21. Sept. 21 was the first day I could remember that the news was not on at night in our house. When 7 p.m. rolled around and my parents, my brother and I all sat around the TV, for the first time since the attacks. Sports had returned to New York City.
The New York Mets played their rivals, the Atlanta Braves, at Shea Stadium.  The atmosphere at the game was a mix of sorrow and joy, resilience and reverence. The entire stadium lit up with American flags, first responders lined the field with the players before the start of the game.
Mayor Giuliani and many of the other city’s leaders had attended the game as well.  Random patriotic chants of “U-S-A” carried throughout the night in the sold-out crowd, and for that one night team did not matter.
The whole city had its eyes on Queens that night. The Mets, against the will of Major League Baseball, came out with hats honoring the FDNY and the NYPD and other service men and women, which they would wear for the rest of the season.
The game was similar to many Mets games; the Mets were losing 2-1 going into the eighth inning.
Then in the eighth, with a man on base, Mike Piazza (my favorite player) got up to the plate. Piazza on the second pitch from Steve Karsay hit a home run off the camera tower in center field; the Mets would take the lead 3-2 and win by that score.
When he hit the home run I was happy as any kid who has ever seen their childhood hero hit a home run, I jumped and cheered until I looked to my parents.
Both of my parents were smiling but both had tears running down their faces.
At the time I did not understand, it took me some time to realize how unbelievably special that home run was. It was a sign that things would be alright, that we would somehow make it through this.
That one home run showed us that we could go back to living our life, it gave us confidence that we would be able to fight through it all.
That game, that home run, were anything but normal.
However they gave us a sense of normalcy and an escape that we needed even in one of the darkest times we had ever experienced.
But sports to us had provided an escape and a refuge to go to when we needed it the most.
Today I cannot watch that home run without crying just like my parents had done, I realized not too long after how much that had meant to not just them but everyone in the city.
Yankees fans, Mets fans, even people who do not like baseball all say the same thing — that is the most memorable home run they had ever seen.