Baseball and Bin Laden

I was in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

I was commuting into New York City on the PATH train to take my first law school exam. The weather was a perfect sunny and 80 degrees. I was a little tired from staying up late the night before to watch the Giants and Broncos play on Monday Night Football. I purchased a new 40-trip PATH ticket and I made my way into Manhattan. The train pulled in and I saw cops and firefighters standing on the platform directing people to the exit.

The noises coming from the station were indescribable. Smoke was billowing from the tracks. But I had an exam to get to, so I calmly walked to the escalator and made my way out of the building assuming that the cops and firefighters would take care of the rest. I didn’t notice anything was remarkably wrong until I made it outside the Twin Towers and saw thousands of people across the street just staring up. I then noticed both buildings on fire, thinking how incredulous it was for both of them to be in flames at the same time. That is when I started my journey away from the Towers, dodging falling bodies and debris. The rest has been chronicled in prior articles, but if you really want to hear the rest of my 9/11 story, it is easier just to email me.

In the immediate aftermath of that day, I required a few months of therapy just to deal with the traumatic experience and horrific things I witnessed. I decided to continue at my law school in New York and went on to graduate in 2004. It took me quite a long time to truly start “moving on” and trying to resume a normal life. It was quite difficult because there were constant reminders everywhere, both physically and mentally. Over time, I dealt with the memories better and better. But once the calendar turns to September every year, my anxiety levels rise and the memories come flooding back. Those first 11 days in September are quite difficult to get through because I uncontrollably obsess about what happened exactly at that day and time in 2001. It’s like a subconscious desire to remember what life was like before 9/11/01 because everything changed on that day.

It was frustrating not having sports immediately afterward for the distraction. In fact, the WWE was the first form of entertainment to come back and broadcast a live show to help start the healing process. That edition of Smackdown was unforgettable, but it was the first baseball game played in New York after 9/11 that was awe-inspiring. Mike Piazza’s memorable home run off Steve Karsay gave the Mets a 3-2 win and gave the fans something to truly cheer for. As I have admitted before, I was by myself watching this game and cried hysterically after Piazza hit the homer. I needed to feel joy about something, and I got caught up in the emotions of seeing Shea Stadium rocking with electricity. As a former catcher myself, Piazza was my favorite player so it was even more special that he was the one who hit the home run.

In the past 10 years, I have watched hundreds and hundreds of baseball games with varying emotions depending how the Mets are doing or how my fantasy players are performing. But generally speaking, I do not usually associate watching baseball games, or even Mike Piazza highlights, with anything associated to 9/11. I am able to watch a game and enjoy it for what it is worth or what I am looking to get out of it. That is, until Sunday night, May 1, 2011.

I was watching the Mets play their archrival Phillies on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball when the news started breaking about Bin Laden’s death. At first, I didn’t want to believe it because I have been cynical over the years as to our abilities to ever get to him. But then I changed channels to see the news and hear that President Obama would be making the announcement that Bin Laden was dead and there was definitive proof of his demise. All of a sudden, my joy and elation that he was dead turned into a knot in my stomach. The memories of 9/11 and everything I go through each September just cascaded into a flood of visions and emotions all at once. My Facebook and Twitter accounts blew up with loving comments from friends and family that recognized what this meant to me. All of a sudden, I was unexpectedly forced to deal with these emotions—and I was admittedly not prepared for it.

It is a great thing that we can celebrate justice being served to that piece of garbage that murdered 3,000 people and changed the lives of millions forever. There is some sense of closure to this decade-long nightmare, but the truth is that it will never be over. Those who perished that day and as a result of this conflict can, I hope, rest in better peace now.

But the baseball connection is also so important to me because baseball is such a vital part of my life and who I am. Once I had time to digest what was going on, it all became very apparent how ironic some things are with this situation. First, it was great that a New York team was playing in the nationally televised game when this historic announcement was made. Second, the Mets were playing another archrival, the Braves, when Piazza hit the home run in that first game back in New York after 9/11. Here, the Mets were playing in Philadelphia, a location that has not always been friendly to the Mets and their fans. Just as I got chills seeing the Mets and Braves hug each other in 2001, I got the same chills seeing and hearing the Philadelphia fans chanting “U.S.A.!” during the game.

Third, Bobby Valentine was the manager of the Mets in 2001 and Orel Hershiser pitched for the Mets in 1999 under Valentine. They were two of the three ESPN announcers calling the game. Bobby V’s participation was very fitting. I am not a big fan of his as a manager, but he was a good guy and had a successful run during his tenure. I respect what he did for the Mets and for the game of baseball. The final bit of irony is that the Mets won a one-run game in dramatic fashion thanks to a game-winning hit by a catcher whose last name begins with a “P.” Ronny Paulino hit a game-winning double in the 14th inning to secure a Mets win on Sunday night, just as Piazza hit a two-run home run to help the Mets defeat the Braves 3-2 in 2001.

These comparisons may seem trivial to some, but they meant a lot to me. It really emphasized how circular and cosmic things can be in life. At the end of the day, I am glad that Bin Laden is dead. I am also glad the Mets won their game. Baseball has proven time and time again to be a constant form of therapy for me, and again, it didn’t let me down.

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  1. buck turgidson said...

    Really?  THT is reveling in death?  What about the 6000+ dead American troops?  Forget the fact that our country can’t afford to pay for the damage done to the countless physically and emotionally maimed by this war?

    Guess what, you aren’t the only witness to violence and horror.  I’m pretty disappointed that this site posted this.  It has nothing to do with baseball.

  2. Bruce Markusen said...

    Baseball (not to mention specific baseball players) is discussed in the last seven paragraphs of the article, which accounts for more than half of the article. So please don’t try to tell anyone that the article has nothing to do with baseball.

    Good job, Michael.

  3. Dave Studeman said...

    Michael, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I thought it was very appropriate and moving.

  4. Michael A. Stein said...

    Thanks Bruce and Dave, much appreciated.

    @Buck – you are certainly entitled to your opinion as to what type of content should be provided on Hardball Times.  But there is a distinct correlation between what happened on 9-11 and how baseball played a part in my own personal healing process. 

    Of course the loss of thousands of lives takes precedent over anything I experienced that day, but this is not the forum to be discussing politics and morality.  That is why I focused the theme of my article on how baseball played a role in the aftermath of 9-11 and the subsequent death of Bin Laden.  I never claimed to be the only one who witnessed and lived through that day.  But I can only speak about my own experience. 

    I have only contributed articles about fantasy baseball to the Hardball Times, but because baseball is such an integral part of my life, I wanted to share this baseball article with the audience.  These events are a vital part of American history, and baseball has played a significant role in my personal experiences with them. 

    The Hardball Times is a great website dedicated to baseball.  Not everything written about baseball always has to be about statistics, fantasy, matchups, records, history, etc.  The game of baseball speaks for itself in the role it has played in our history, and I simply wanted to pay tribute to it in helping me cope with these historical events.

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