A Healing Classic
September 11th had come and gone six weeks earlier, however it was now more important than ever. Truly, it will never leave, it will be a date that will rival July 4th as the most memorable (in one way or another) in the history of this country. I was never around for JFK's assassination, obviously, so September 11th became my "I remember exactly where I was when I heard about it" moment. I was sitting in the art class of Mrs. Bladel in the A-Wing of the Upper Elementary Middle School (although that was the least creative name possible, somehow it feels more original than its current name of Millstone River). I was close by to her desk, as she was alerted by some other faculty member to put the radio on. I wasn't really listening; I mean, come on, the radio, but immediately turned my head when I heard her gasp in horror. She told us, something I eventually learned that she should not have, that planes had hit the twin towers. Again, as a 10 year old, I did not know what terrorism truly was, I had no idea this was a complex plot that would still haunt me and millions other 9 years later. When I went home later that day, and learned that the twin towers had fallen, that the buildings I loved, the buildings my dad once worked in (thankfully not during the September of aught-one), I took a walk around the neighborhood with my sister, just having an empty feeling inside. I still did not truly understand the events of the day, I did not understand why anyone would want to do such a thing. Of course, I still don't quite understand it, but I at least understand that such things will happen in life (and, sadly, have since happened). What I did understand was that the world truly stopped.
New York City, the city that never slept, the city that was the economic and social capital of the world, the very city that was essentially a trump card that America could hold over any other country, was engulfed in smoke, death and tears; millions and millions of tears. Just six weeks later, with 'Ground Zero' still cautioned off, with deadly toxins still floating around the space once inhabited by people, including one man from our neighborhood, Mr. Jeffrey Fox, New York was full of joy. The Yankees had won the pennant. Sports are inherently meaningless at the best of times. Unlike most other proffessions, sports is one that serves no real benefit than to entertain lives, like music and art. It's not a financial service to create money, or a restaurant to feed masses. It is pure entertainment. On a normal autumn day it is meaningless. On an autumn day just six weeks after America was ruthlessly attacked, it was even moreso. However, there has never been a time where something so meaningless has meant so much.
Baseball may no longer be the sport that is most beloved by America. In fact, it is definitely not. Football has taken its perch high above Mt. Olympus, the king of all athletic competitions, something that is the only sport whose schedule can tangibly impact how the other sports schedule their events. Football is king, but at that point in time, baseball was what we needed. Baseball still holds a special connection to this country. It may seem terribly cliched to say that like Apple Pie, Chevy's and Hot Dogs, baseball is lodged in the fabric of the country, but like most cliches, it is true. Baseball is a sport of individual excellence, of tense, sensual moments, of a unique intimacy. Thousands of people hold on to the pitcher's arm and go for the ride. It is breathless, it is pure, it is spectacular. It is America's definitive sport, one of grace, style, power and precision. At a time where the country was down, was injured, laying on the mat like a lifeless, prideful fighter, baseball lifted it out. For 10 days, baseball went further, and created a deeper impact than ever before. It did not restore the nation, but it captivated one, it aided one, it made one take pride in its achievement. Maybe America wasn't the safe haven it once was, but God damn if it didn't have the ability to create a Shakespearean Theatre on a 90x90 diamond.
The Yankees and Diamondbacks were the competitors, but it really was the country and the Diamonbacks. Arizona was the site of two routine wins in Games 1 & 2, with Curt Schilling and then Randy Johnson shutting down the Yankees, as the D'Backs won the two games 9-1 and 4-0. The series shifted to New York, and then it really started, the healing really took place. In the course of three days, the country was introduced to Mystique, Aura, Byung-Hyun Kim and the raw power of baseball to heal, to soothe and to inspire.
George W. Bush's First Pitch in Game 3.
The whole world series started in earnest with George W. Bush's first pitch. Bush's following 7 years tend to outdo the fact that at that point in time he was beloved by all, seen as a man that was given an impossible task, dealing with the greatest terrorist attack in US history, and mending the wounds created by it. He did all of that, uniting the nation against the terrorists, leading the USA into a period where there were more flags flying in the sky than there were Fords littering the streets. It was impossible to imagine the pure brilliance of George W. Bush's first pitch. In the backdrop of a city that lost its true face, Bush strolled out to the rubber and uncorked a perfect curveball for a perfect strike. It was a clear message, "I can throw a perfect strike. I can do it all. We can do it all." That might have been the greatest moment in the Bush Presidency, and that is not a knock on Bush, as that first pitch in New York City, with 100 NYPD and FDNY officers on the field might have been one of the most chillingy beautiful moments in the history of the American presidency. What followed was a good, but untimately forgettable game, because for two nights, the Yankees, the Diamondbacks and a boy named Kim would captivate a nation. Ground Zero was shifted 10 miles north, to the Bronx, the site of baseball magic, magic that spread past the diamond and accross the nation.
Byung-Hyun Kim is Korean born, and in 2001 he barely knew English. He knew little of America, beyond his fair grasp of the ability to pitch. Little did he know that the man would become a tragic hero, but moreso a guy who simultaneously haunted his career and helped heal New York. It was near 11:30 pm on Halloween. The millions of kid ghosts that patrolled the streets of America hoarding candy were all inside, tucked away. Their time had pasts; it was time for the real ghosts to be unearthed. Down two, with one out remaining, one out seperating the Yankees from a nearly-impossible to recover 3-1 defecit in the series. Tino Martinez digged in. Tino Martinez wasted little time, taking the third delivery from Byung-Hyun Kim and knocking it deep. It was heading for the deepest part of the park, the black seats that once held fans who cheered on Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, men who were heroes in their day. "Mystique and Aura: Appearing Nightly" one fan's sign said, but it was the ghosts of those thousand new yorkers, of the countless fireman who took off Yankee hats and put un their gear before entering the burning tower, that lifted that ball further and further back. It nestled comfortably into the seats in right-center field, tying the game and sending the World Series into extra innings and into a new month. Baseball was to be played in November for the first time. Derek Jeter made the most of that opportunity, slamming the first pitch he saw the next inning off Mr. Kim. This time the power of the ghosts were not neccessary, as it shot into the stands, sending the Yankees into a celebration and the series into a deadlock. Byung-Hyun Kim left the field, head down, thinking that he had cost his team a game. Of course, he would do so much more than that.
The next night, Kim had a chance to redeem himself. Same situation, one out to go, two runs ahead. The Yankees were lifeless, having not scored a single run, and been helpless against Kim. Scott Brosius came up. The son of a police officer, Brosius knew that there were hundreds of kids who lost their fathers because as police officers, they entered the towers. Brosius knew that there were thousands in the city still grieving, still crying every time they went near Ground Zero, still replaying the attack over and over again. Brosius also knew that the ghosts would make their nightly appearance, that he was a Yankee, at a time that name meant more than ever. Brosius hammered the first pitch he saw, and in cleared the left-field wall, tying the game once more. It was too impossible. Only one world series game in history before 2001 had ever been won by a team who was down by more than one run with one out to go. The Yankees pulled off the feat twice in two days. 51 days after New York seemed helpless, seemed desolate and bleak, anything was possible again. The city that once built higher than anyone ever, the city that served as a refuge for those leaving squalid lives overseas, the city that stood for freedom, wealth and liberty, could conquer all odds, and it did. Byung-Hyun Kim again had to leave the field knowing that he cost his team a chance to win the world-series. He probably cost himself millions, as he would have been known as a lock-down pressure closer. However, this time, his head wasn't slumped down, it was high, it was up, mouth agape and eyes open. He was soaking it in, he was not revelling in his failure, he was admiring the pure joy that his failure had given too a city that needed it more than any.
Kim, and the Diamondbacks, would get the last laugh, with their memorable win in Game 7, coming from a run down with two outs to go against the best postseason closer in MLB history. Luis Gonzalez would get his name put along Brosius and Martinez as heroes of the 2001 World Series. However, the real winners were New York City, and America at large. At a time where America was still picking up the pieces from a shattered sense of security, at a time where millions of people were itching for something to captivate them, sport, a simple game with a stick and a ball, delivered.
Baseball will never be America's pasttime again. It has forever ceded that title to the NFL, a more marketable, more social game. However, there is no sport that is as dramatic, as memorable, as impactful and as meaningful as baseball. It is not a sport, it is an American tradition, like fireworks on July 4th. Every year, there is no tenser moment in sports than a close baseball playoff game, where every pitch seems like a mini-heart attack, a trembling silence, broken with a violent pitch and an equally violent swing of the bat. This was not every year, this was the year. This was the year that America's lost its security, lost its innocence. This was the year where America was brought back to earth. This was the year America was taught a lesson. No, not by the 19 terrorist, but by the 50 baseball players and a courageous president with a good right arm. The Yankees taught America to never give up, that even when faced with odds that have never been beaten ever, that there is still, and always will be, a way. Byung-Hyun Kim taught American's that the best way to respond to defeat is to hold your head high, to see that there is always joy in the world, wether the world that is your own life is crashing and burning. Finally, the ghosts taught us the greatest lesson of all. The Ghosts appear nightly, wether it be to lift a ball over a deep, deep fence or to comfort those it left behind far too soon. The World Series is the Fall Classic. In 2001, it was the American Classic, and there was no loser. Only the D'Backs held the trophy, but the country held their heads up high.
A Beautiful Clip of the Game 1 Intro. Only baseball can make these introspective, patriotic intros work. Why? Because it is still, and will always be, the most meaningful game.