- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 11, 2002

NEW YORK For all that will be going on around New York today, Mike Mussina knows the events that take place at Yankee Stadium tonight will carry special significance.

"We've had a pretty big role in all of this process," the New York Yankees right-hander said of the city's recovery from the terrorist attacks a year ago today. "We've played a lot of baseball in a year, and I know people have had a lot of thoughts, both positive and negative. This is an important day, and the organization is going to have the perfect ceremonies. It will be remembered."

Baseball stadiums around the country will commemorate the anniversary today with a moment of silence at 9:11 p.m., followed by a video presentation honoring those who died at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Somerset County, Pa. But most eyes will be focused on Yankee Stadium, where an elaborate pregame ceremony is planned before the Yankees and Baltimore Orioles take the field.

Among the scheduled tributes are the dedication of a plaque in Yankee Stadium's fabled Monument Park paying tribute to both the victims and heroes of September 11, the presentation of an American flag recovered from the World Trade Center and a fly-over by four U.S. Navy F-18 Hornets just returned from combat operations in Afghanistan.

"I'm sure it's going to be pretty emotional [tonight]," New York manager Joe Torre said. "But we need to get through it, and we need to continue doing what we do."

Indeed, perhaps the most notable event scheduled tonight is the ballgame itself. As the Yankees proved down the stretch and during the postseason last year, the simple act of playing baseball has a way of lifting people's spirits more than any choreographed ceremony.

"I think we realized what a big part of people's lives we play," Torre said. "We didn't know that at the time, because baseball was just a game and so unimportant compared to with what life was dealing everybody. To know that we were responsible for trying to distract people from the misery and the sadness it was a responsibility we felt and we continue to feel. And now I think we take the field with a little different meaning every day."

By mere chance of scheduling, the Orioles are in town this week for a four-game series. The opportunity to share the spotlight with the Yankees and help contribute to the night's overall theme is one they have been looking forward to for some time.

"We saw it on the schedule a few months ago, and we knew it was going to be an emotional time," outfielder Jay Gibbons said. "I'm proud to be part of it. I think we've been looking forward to this."

In an unusual twist, both starting pitchers for tonight's game are from foreign countries: the Yankees' Orlando Hernandez (Cuba) and Orioles rookie John Stephens (Australia). The non-American matchup, however, underscores how the effects of last September's events spread far beyond domestic borders.

"It scared the hell out of me," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said of the initial attack on the World Trade Center. "It scared me for my family. It scared me for our country. It scared me for the people immediately involved. I probably had the same reaction as everybody else did uncertainty that turned into pride after it all started settling down."

And in its own way, baseball has played an important role in fostering that newfound sense of national pride.

"Events like that, they always remind us that there are other things going on besides baseball," Mussina said. "For a few minutes, you remember that we're just playing baseball and there are other things going on out there that are drastically more important."

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