Baseball Helped A City Heal
— Into the gloom the Yankees players walked, trying to make as quiet and solemn an entrance as they could.

They had stopped to visit and offer encouragement to the volunteer workers at the Javits Center, and it seemed comfortable. Now, they were outside the Armory on 26th and Lexington where, inside, were photos of thousands of missing people and relatives who had been waiting several days for miracles that weren't to be. The players waited several minutes on their bus, wondering if they would even be welcomed inside.

"It was awkward," Derek Jeter recalled before a recent game at Yankee Stadium. "What can we say? What can we do? How can we help? … Why would these people want to see us?"

But word was sent out that, yes, the people inside did want to see the Yankees.

And so they walked in to see the shattered looks on the faces, and stopped just inside the door, still not sure how to proceed. The people came over. One woman, with a look of devastation on her face, could do little more than stare.

"I don't know what to say," Bernie Williams told her, "but you look like you need a hug."

A young boy who had lost his father approached Paul O'Neill and asked how his injured foot was feeling, rendering O'Neill speechless.

"It went from not knowing what to expect to being glad you had the opportunity to do that," Jeter said.

It was then the Yankees realized they had a job to do, something above and beyond the usual task of winning baseball games. They had to keep playing as well and as long as possible to help heal the city.

"We had a sense of what it meant to people," Mariano Rivera said. "They let us know that."

The morning of Sept. 1, the Yankees were defending world champions, in first place in the AL East. The night before, their game against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium was rained out, but it was a late night for team employees and the reporters covering the beat.

George Steinbrenner was in town to receive an award in lower Manhattan on the 11th, and with the contracts of both general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Torre soon to expire, any word from "The Boss" figured to be big news the next morning.

But Steinbrenner didn't want to talk Monday night, and he stayed in his office until the last of the reporters camped outside had given up, sending a spokesman out at one point to ask them to "disperse."

Meanwhile, the Mets were in Pittsburgh, far behind in the playoff race a year after losing to the Yankees in the World Series. After the attacks, the Mets were unable to fly and took the bus back to New York and saw the massive smoke rising from the spot where the towers were.

"There was a sudden quietness," pitcher John Franco, a native New Yorker, recalled during a conference call with reporters this month. "You could hear a pin drop."

In the days that followed, players dropped their usual baseball routines. When the Mets' home, Shea Stadium, became a depot for supplies, manager Bobby Valentine — a Stamford native who had lost a close friend at the World Trade Center — infielder Todd Zeile and Franco were among those who went out and helped load the trucks.

"I remember wondering, 'What were we going to do with this group'?" said Valentine, now director of public safety in Stamford and an analyst for ESPN. "If we were going to be a Band-Aid over this gaping wound, or if we were going to make a difference."


Four days later, on Sept. 15, the Yankees returned to Yankee Stadium for a light workout. It began with a prayer, all the players and coaches gathering on the mound and kneeling, as snipers positioned themselves on rooftops providing security, something that would become a familiar sight in the coming weeks. After practice, they boarded buses for Manhattan.