- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 12, 2002

NEW YORK It was only a baseball game, a relatively meaningless September evening matchup between the New York Yankees (well on their way to a fifth straight division title) and the Baltimore Orioles (well on their way to a fifth straight losing season).

And yet it was so much more, not because of what took place on the field at Yankee Stadium last night but because of the emotional context that surrounded it.

On the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks that struck at the very heart of the town the Yankees call home and the town the Orioles have adopted as theirs, they played baseball in the Bronx. And a crowd of 35,183 gathered for a public display of remembrance and a celebration of the national pastime.

"What we do in this game is probably very insignificant," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "But I think the one thing professional sports and especially baseball in this time has been able to do is to play a small part in bringing normalcy back to people's lives."

On a windy New York day that was anything but normal, the Yankees and Orioles went out and did the same thing they do every night: play a ballgame.

It was obvious, however, that this was no ordinary night at the park, but rather a baseball game played in the shadow of something much bigger.

"Without a doubt; [the game is] definitely secondary," Baltimore pitcher Pat Hentgen said. "I don't even know if it's second."

The evening began with a moving, 35-minute ceremony that hit all the right notes and was quintessential New York.

Representatives of the New York police and fire departments joined military personnel and airline pilots in unfurling two American flags on the field, one of which was recovered from the wreckage of the World Trade Center.

Saxophonist Branford Marsalis played "Taps," while Irish tenor Ronan Tynan sang "God Bless America" and the Harlem Boys Choir performed the National Anthem.

As the two teams stood along the baselines (the Yankees wearing black ribbons on their left sleeves, the Orioles wearing a red, white and blue, Pentagon-shaped patch on their right sleeves), four Navy F-18 Hornets whizzed over the stadium at the conclusion of "The Star Spangled Banner," bringing a large ovation from the assembled crowd.

But perhaps the evening's most poignant moment occurred in Yankee Stadium's fabled Monument Park, where the franchise's legends are forever enshrined. A monument was unveiled last night, one that will stand alongside Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle.

This one was dedicated in memory of September11, 2001, "to the eternal spirit of the innocent victims of these crimes and to the selfless courage shown by both public servants and private citizens."

Yankee Stadium was not the only ballpark to commemorate yesterday's events. Every major-league game played last night paused for a moment of silence at 9:11 p.m., followed by a short video presentation.

American flags flew at half-staff in every ballpark. Songs such as "Imagine," "I Will Survive," "Let it Be," and "Bridge Over Troubled Water" played during batting practice instead of the usual bubblegum pop music. And the electronic message boards throughout the country carried a simple message:

"We Shall Not Forget."

Millions of Americans spent the day remembering and mourning and paying homage, and those who came to the ballparks said the ceremonies and songs were important to the nation.

"It feels very special. I wouldn't have missed it. It's something the whole country is looking at," said Jim DiCaprio, 41, of Yonkers, N.Y. "It was beautiful, very dignified. That flag with the stars missing was very touching."

In Chicago, fan Geraldine Mrozinksi said she first felt guilty about coming to Wrigley Field for a Cubs-Expos game.

"But once we got here," she said, "it seems like the perfect place to be. Here, we'll commemorate it in the proper way."

"Sports," Cubs catcher Joe Girardi said, "is an outlet for people."

Most sporting events went on yesterday as on almost any other day, despite the government's decision to raise the United States' security alert warning to "high risk."

Security was tight at afternoon baseball games, and crowds seemed smaller than usual. At Turner Field, where the Atlanta Braves played the New York Mets in a day-night doubleheader, only about 1,500 people had arrived a half-hour before the first game.

"It's a day that we'll all remember, but you've got to get on with it," Braves outfielder Chipper Jones said. "You've got to do what you do. And that's what we're doing. Twice."

But the day's serious tone was never far away.

Before the Dodgers-Giants game at Pac Bell Park, there was a tribute on the big screen on the center-field scoreboard reading "9.11.01 We will never forget," with a series of black-and-white photos from the events of one year ago.

Instead of a ceremonial first pitch, the ball was placed on the mound by a man whose father died in the attacks. Members of the San Francisco Fire Department tossed wreaths of white flowers into McCovey Cove from a fireboat outside the park.

At the Pirates-Reds game, the first pitch was thrown out by 14-year-old Andy Moskal, whose father, William, was killed at the World Trade Center.

Fans at all games were given a T-shirt with an emblem featuring a red, white and blue ribbon, the major league baseball logo and the words "We Shall Not Forget." That same emblem was displayed on the outfield fences, the bases and the lineup cards.

During afternoon games, the moment of silence and video came during the seventh-inning stretch.

"We're here to play baseball, we're here to entertain and we're here to hopefully help people heal," San Francisco manager Dusty Baker said.

But the focus last night was clearly on New York, particularly because of the heightened state of alert that had everyone in attendance a little on edge.

"I've thought about being here on his day for a long time, and I've been a little uneasy and uncomfortable about it," Hargrove said. "But the way I look at it, there are a lot of people living here who live with it all the time."

Indeed, Yankees manager Joe Torre wasn't going to let the threat of terrorism wear on his mind last night.

"I didn't last year. If I didn't last year, I'm not going to now," Torre said. "You can't be afraid. That would be giving in to what this whole thing is about."

And so they played a ballgame in the Bronx last night. Robin Ventura brought the crowd to its feet with a solo homer off Orioles rookie John Stephens in the second inning, and Alfonso Soriano earned a curtain call for a three-run blast in the third inning.

Under extraordinary circumstances, it felt just like any other night at the park.

"It's a communal thing," Ventura said. "Hopefully the game will be something that gets people through it."

Associated Press contributed to this report

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