Yankees recall tragedy of 9/11

Yankees recall tragedy of 9/11

TORONTO -- Derek Jeter remembers shaking hands with various New York City emergency workers six years ago, blocks from the still-smoking blazes of Ground Zero, and hearing how excited they were to meet him. It didn't make a whole lot of sense.

But then again, not much seemed right in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. Now, as the nation mourns its losses once more and remembers the events of that tragic Tuesday morning, Jeter thinks back to how baseball was considered part of New York's healing process.

"I hear the stories now," Jeter said. "When people talk about September 11, they talk about how -- at least for those few hours -- we gave them something they could cheer for. That makes you feel good. At that point, some people who weren't necessarily baseball fans sort of rallied around us as a symbol for the city. I just think it gave people those three hours a day, something that they could cheer for."

The Mets may have played the first game back within New York's city limits after Sept. 11, a memorable Shea Stadium contest against the Braves in which Mike Piazza hit a crucial home run off future Yankee Steve Karsay. But it was the Yankees who kept the Bronx lit and played deepest into October, providing a welcome distraction for a city that desperately needed reasons to cheer.

The stories of rescue workers near the fallen World Trade Center towers, hovering around a portable television set or a radio to keep up with the Yankees' World Series vs. Arizona, have become deeply entrenched in sports folklore. Indeed, they are now part of American history.

Yankees manager Joe Torre said he relives Sept. 11 so often. Six years seems like a minute ago, Torre said, and yet the pain is never going to go away.

"It's not supposed to happen here," Torre said. "That's the whole mindset. Even though you have different things happen, especially at the World Trade Center [bombing] seven years earlier, it's something of this magnitude that scared ... all of us. It's so sad."

For the players, it was understood that their role was to help provide an outlet for raw emotions in a time when such releases were crucial. The Yankees, along with other notable figures in sports, entertainment and politics, were eagerly received downtown, where they consoled the grieving and lifted the spirits of the wounded.

"It was a time when people didn't have much to smile about," Jeter said. "I remember hearing the stories and how people were so excited to meet us. That didn't make much sense at the time, because we were with the real heroes -- the Fire Department, the NYPD, the EMS workers.

"For us, it was an opportunity to meet them and hear their stories. In return, they told us how excited they were to meet us. It was kind of a weird situation."

The Yankees remain the only Major League club to play "God Bless America" at the seventh inning of every home game. It was a common statement after Sept. 11 that the United States had been forever changed, that nothing could or should be the same. Torre would agree with that sentiment.

"There's just things you pay a whole lot more attention to," Torre said. "We're so much more vigilant than we used to be."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.