"Before setting out on their current road trip, the Yankees honored the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks with a special pregame ceremony in the Bronx. In remembrance today, I thought I’d run a piece to commemorate the attacks that I’d written a couple of years ago in my earlier column for YESNetwork.com, DEEP IN THE RED. It’s been revised and expanded from the original.
On September 10, 2001 my wife Suzanne and I were at Yankee Stadium to see the Yankees play the Red Sox and, we hoped, see a 39-year-old Roger Clemens attain the 20th win of his career against his former team. But it was a gray, wet day and the rain kept pouring down and down through a lengthy game delay.
We had very good seats behind the Yankees dugout. I remember, after a while, watching Brian Cashman, Joe Torre, and then Red Sox manager Joe Kerrigan confer on the warning track in the rain. Soon they went walking around the field together, skirting the infield tarp to prod the soggy grass at its edges with their shoes, then heading toward the outfield and doing the same to test it. You could see the water squish up under their feet from the saturated turf.
It wasn’t surprising that the game was postponed, with a makeup date to be determined if necessary. The field wasn’t playable, and the Yankees had a big division lead over the Red Sox. I’m fairly certain that game never had to be made up.
Although my wife and I were disappointed it was called, we took some consolation knowing that we had tickets for the next night’s game. The team coming in to begin a series on September 11 was the Chicago White Sox. Our seats weren’t nearly as good but we were still hoping we’d get to see Clemens achieve his milestone. We wondered whether he’d make his scheduled start in the pitching rotation or skip his turn.
The elevator in our apartment building was under repair that day. It had been out of service since the day before, September 9. That day had been muggy and, because we lived several stories up, we’d complained about having to use the stairs. Climbing up, we’d run into two young women who asked us to come over to their apartment and have ice cream with them. They’d taken off from work for their spur-of-the-moment ice cream party. Or a broken-elevator party, as they’d called it. They were roommates in their late twenties or early thirties and hadn’t lived in the building long. We appreciated the offer but declined.
When I woke up on September 11, two days later, Suzanne already had the local news on — the channel was NY1 with its round-the-clock coverage. She had tuned in for the weather forecast and perhaps an update on whether Clemens was pitching that night. The weather really wasn’t much of a question; all you had to do was look out the window to know it was a picture perfect day, the sky a cloudless sheet of blue.
Not long after I started watching TV the regular morning news cycle was interrupted. It was about a quarter to nine and there was a report of smoke coming from the World Trade Center. I wondered at first if a fire had broken out in one of the offices. But within minutes somebody — a motorist, I believe — phoned the station to say he thought a small plane had crashed into the tower.
And then the events of that day began to unfold with a horror that was, at least then, incomprehensible to us.
We had friends who wound up staying at our Manhattan apartment for most of the day. One had been at work and the other was out looking for work. Both lived outside the borough and couldn’t get home when the city went into virtual lockdown. They called and came over searching for a place to go, and I went out to the store and joined the lines of people getting bottled water and extra food provisions. We did not know the scope of the attack, or who was attacking us. We only knew New York city had been attacked and thought it might be wise to stock up.
I remember looking south on Third Avenue and seeing the New York skyline erased. The sky was blue overhead but downtown was just a whitish smear in my vision. I remember that when Suzanne went out to walk our dog Kirby, she saw a fleet of SUVs shooting south on Second Avenue. They were black and unmarked with darkly tinted windows. The police in the NYPD cruisers speeding along with them were barking out warnings through their loudspeakers, instructing pedestrians, some still on their way to work, to stay put on the sidewalk as the SUVs streaked by.
As our friends sat with us in front of the television, I remember, now, all of us watching in stunned disbelief as the towers came down. And then watching all the rest. I cannot describe the sense of unreality and isolation we felt. It was as if we’d slipped into some dark alternate universe. Or if that impossible universe had overtaken and engulfed our own. What was happening wasn’t really happening. Except of course we knew it was.
About a week later my wife and I had to leave New York and did so with sunken hearts. Someone had put prayer candles in our building’s entrance foyer and I stared at them for a long time as we headed out. Several tenants had been at the World Trade Center and died there in the flames and destruction. We would learn that two of them were the women who’d asked us to come up to their apartment for ice cream a couple of days before the terrorists struck.
As I got into our car, I knelt, closed my eyes, and put my fingertips to the pavement. I don’t recall what I was thinking. I just remember doing that.
We were at Yankee Stadium the day baseball resumed. Then at the end of October, one of the friends who’d stayed with us on the day of the attacks had tickets for Game 3 of the World Series, the first of the series being played in New York. He said there was a chance he’d be able to get me a ticket from his uncle, and stopped over at the apartment and waited for a call. In the end, the seat went to someone else and I stayed home and watched that game on television with my wife.
I’ve never really thought I had much of a shot at that World Series ticket. Or believed that my friend thought I did. We never spoke of it later, but I’ve always been convinced he came over just so we could spend some time together before he left for that game, a raucous, World Series game at Yankee Stadium in New York City, just six weeks or so after the homicidal, suicidal maniacs hijacked those planes.
We’d shared the day of horror, the three of us. And that October evening before former President George W. Bush threw his ceremonial first pitch from the mound, we were going to share just a little of the defiant unity that series would bring to New York City and the rest of America.
It makes me sad that too much of that feeling has since faded. We should not need tragedy on a massive scale to bring out compassion, and consideration, for one another. It is vital and good that we remember the past and pay tribute to 9-11’s innocent victims. But the greatest of tributes must go beyond anniversary commemorations and extend to our daily lives. How much more meaningful would it be if this date inspired us to move forward treating others with greater respect and decency? How much more elevating the message if it made us kinder, better people?
And so as I sit writing this all these years later, it all comes inextricably together for me. The impotent shock and horror of that day in September ‘01, the sorrow, the memory of baseball lifting many of us up when we so desperately needed it — and the simple thought that life is too tenuous, too fleeting, for its precious moments to be squandered or driven by hatred.
With thanks to L.K.
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