- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2001

BALTIMORE — For one team, the season is meaningless. Save for all the hoopla about Cal Ripken's retirement, you would be hard-pressed to find many people who care if the Baltimore Orioles play another game this season.

For the other team, though, the season has taken on new meaning. The New York Yankees, who came to Camden Yards last night to play the Orioles, marking the return of baseball to the ballpark for the first time since the Sept. 11 attack on America, now find themselves in the position of carrying the spirit of a devastated city on the field with them.

Under normal circumstances, a game in the third week of September for these Orioles, who came into last night's game with a 56-89 record, would be as irrelevant as could be.

But even with Team Irrelevant which finally gave the hometown fans something to talk about with an exciting 7-6 win in the bottom of the ninth inning after losing 18 of their last 21 games this was still supposed to be a big series for the Orioles. After all, this was originally scheduled to be Ripken's last home series. And last night marked another Camden Yards start for former Orioles ace Mike Mussina.

Like so many other things, all of that was changed by tragedy. The scheduling changes, in light of the crisis this country is facing, are minor, just barely worth noting,

For the Yankees, though, Sept. 11 meant much more than scheduling changes. As they drive toward their quest for a fourth straight World Series championship, they find themselves in the strange position of competing perspectives.

The players know that what they do, in the scope of what has gone on and continues to go on at the World Trade Center crash site, means little. They have seen it first hand in visits to the site and local hospitals. Yet on those visits, they have seen and heard what is expected of them. In a city that has been shook to its core, people are looking for something to cheer about, and their hopes are riding with the New York Yankees.

They have heard the call: win it for New York.

"In the past few days, we've visited a lot of places in New York, and spent a lot of time talking to people, people who are grieving and have lost loved ones. And what they tell us is to go out and win it for the city of New York," Derek Jeter said. "If it helps out some people, then that would be great. I think it could be therapeutic."

These are strange times, and they are likely to get stranger. No one knows what the days and weeks ahead will bring, but the Yankees could find themselves in the unusual position of having the entire country rooting for them.

And not just the entire country but much of the free and civilized world. The Italians must love New York. Both Rome and Milan, two cities that plan on bidding for the 2012 Summer Olympics (as if there will be an Olympics by then) have come out and said they will give up their bids if New York is picked as the American choice for those games.

Let's face it: winning the World Series will mean more to New York than any other city Seattle, Cleveland, Oakland, Chicago, anyone. Yankees manager Joe Torre got a glimpse of the national sentiment for his team when they were in Chicago playing the White Sox before they came to Baltimore.

"We had an interesting reception on the road in Chicago, where they were cheering the city we represent, and yet they are still pulling for their team to win the game, which is fine," he said. "It was very emotional."

It's hard not to be emotional about anything connected to the Sept. 11 tragedies at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Camden Yards was filled with emotion last night when, before the game, about 75 members of fire and rescue units from Maryland and Virginia marched onto the field and lined up along the basepaths, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd as they filed in.

Players from both teams came out of the dugout to line up side by side with the firefighters and rescue workers. At one end stood Ripken, holding an American flag, and at the other end, Roger Clemens did the same. The crowd was silent while a member of the U.S. Naval Academy Band played taps. People were reverential when Diane Sakaris sang the national anthem. Only a handful of people yelled out "O!" at that moment in the song that Orioles fans have adopted as their own, and they were young voices who probably have grown up thinking that is actually the way you are supposed to sing the national anthem. They may have learned a new way last night.

It may be tough for the Yankees to muster up the emotion needed to play out the rest of the season, particularly since they are on the brink of clinching the AL East. But come postseason time, a city that is on the road to recovery will be looking for an emotional boost from a baseball team that is as much a part of the fabric of that city as any institution around. The Yankees are ready to carry the flag.

"We've always represented New York, and have been very proud to do that," Torre said. "But I think it takes on a whole new dimension because of what went on 10 days ago. We always feel pressure to conduct ourselves appropriately, and this thing that happened recently is just another reason to be proud and do what we do as well as we can do it."

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