Saturday, March 29, 2008

My greatest live baseball game experience

Baseball season starts soon! Well, in two days anyway if you're a Mets fan. Negative a couple days if you're a Red Sox fan. Of course, I am talking about the start of the new baseball season. And, let's just talk a minute about how ridiculous starting the season in Japan was. Exactly who watched that game? The Japanese and insomniacs. Regardless of who is playing, I love watching the first game of the season. But, because it was a day game, it was the middle of the night even for folks on the West Coast. Just one more of Bud Sielig's bad ideas for the American pasttime. Yay Commish!

So, since the Mets opening game is a day game, I decided to DVR it and while looking for the game on my program guide, I saw that they were airing the 9/21/01 game on Mets Classics. This was the first baseball game in New York after 9/11. And, it remains the greatest baseball game I ever saw live (and this includes World Series games, division playoff clinches and my first live game ever).

A little backstory... My sister and her (then) fiancee were supposed to get married a week and a half after 9/11, but because they both worked in finance in NYC, they knew people who were directly affected by the attacks. They decided to postpone their wedding until the following month because they weren't in a celebratory mood and knew most of their guests would feel the same way. When I found out that the first Mets game was going to be on 9/21/01, I decided to take them to the game, as we are all huge Mets fans and I thought this might help them forget the disappointment/horror of the prior 10 days for at least a couple of hours.

Of course, the pre-game ceremony did everything they could do to remind us of the horror, but it was more to pay tribute to the victims and the heroes (the Fire Department, Police Department and EMS workers - not however Rudy Giuliani no matter what the television broadcast might have wanted us to believe). There was the moment of sllence, the bagpipe rendition of America the beautiful, the singing of G-d Bless America by Diana Ross, the throwing out of the first pitch by members of the FDNY, NYPD, EMS and Port Authority Police Department, another moment of silence, the National Anthem sung by Marc Anthony, and finally the shaking of hands by the Mets and Atlanta Braves before the game started.

And then the game started. It was a low scoring game which only added to the collective funk in the stadium. While everyone got up for the ubiquitous USA chants, it was like we weren't sure how excited we should be for the game itself. Just days before, Shea Stadium had been used as donation sorting site for the rescue effort. When the wind shifted, you could still smell the ash for the WTC site.

The Mets wore hats with the logos of the different rescue departments (hats they would wear until the end of the season and which they wear on the anniversary of 9/11).

Bruce Chen was the starting pitcher for the Mets, while Staten Island native Jason Marquis started for the Braves. Rey Sanchez got the first hit for the Braves in the third inning, and the following inning the Braves scored the first run of the game (scored by Chipper "Larry" Jones). That was when it seemed like the crowd first really got into that not only was this baseball, but baseball against the BRAVES. The derisive Larry chants got started in earnest this inning (though they had been shouted since his first at-bat) and, in my Left Field section we got on Larry everytime he took the field.

The Mets tied the score in the bottom half of the inning, when Mike Piazza scored on a Tsuyoshi Shinjo sacrifice. And that's were scoring paused until the 8th inning. In the 7th inning we had the first instance of the singing of G-d Bless America (by Liza Minnelli). The Braves scored again in the top half of the 8th inning and there was again a lull in the ballpark. But, then Fonzie (Edgardo Alfonzo) worked out a walk in the bottom of the 8th, bringing Piazza with one out and the Braves up 1-0. Desi Relaford pitch ran for Fonzie, but it turned out to be a moot point, as with one out at 10:29 p.m., he got a hold of a 0-1 pitch that he hit out of the ballpark. The Mets took a 3-2 lead, and Shea went crazy. It was cathartic. Shea Stadium was actually jumping from the sheer weight of people bouncing with glee. Armando Benitez who got the Mets out of a bases loaded jam in the top of the 8th returned to pitch the 9th and got Keith Lockhart to hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the game.

Yes, when we got back on the 7 train and saw the gaping hole where the World Trade Center used to stand, the pain and sadness came flooding back, but for a few brief minutes, we forgot the pain and the uncertainty. Baseball again made us innocent and happy.

The New York Yankees went to the World Series that year, and people all over the media would say that their success was helping the city heal. But on 9/21/01, it was the New York Mets that started the healing process for those 40,000 fans at Shea. They made it okay to cheer for something as insignificant as a baseball game.