Seth Udinski, FISM News
In the wake of the horrifying attacks of September 11, 2001, America was in shock. In the world of sports, all professional sporting events were canceled in the days after the attack.
In New York, the pain was especially prevalent. The cloud of ash from where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood loomed over Manhattan Island for several days. Hundreds were hoping and praying that their loved ones, buried under piles of broken concrete and steel, would somehow survive.
On September 21, 2001, the first post-attack sporting event in New York City took place, in a matchup between the Atlanta Braves and the New York Mets. Compared to what had happened days earlier, sports felt utterly meaningless.
For many, a baseball game felt utterly meaningless in contrast to the gravity of the events that still weighed heavy on the hearts and minds of all Americans. But on that night, Mets’ catcher Mike Piazza lifted the spirits of New Yorkers and Americans all over the country with a dramatic, emotional home run.
It was a solemn night, and also a tense night. Over 40,000 fans packed Shea Stadium, but they were fearful that there would be another attack at the game. American flags waved and chants of “USA!” rang throughout the night. The two teams, division rivals who were currently locked in a tense battle for a playoff spot, came together in the middle of field before the game for a tender moment of remembrance and respect. But many were still afraid. Piazza said after,
Should we be here? Is it too soon? We had a lot of trepidation, we had a lot of anxiety. Terrorism was still prevalent in our minds, was still on our thoughts. A lot of the fear of the unknown. We didn’t know what was gonna happen, we didn’t know what the feeling would be.”
The fans, some of who had lost loved ones in the attack, were desperate for something to smile about. The game had the atmosphere of a playoff matchup. After 7 innings, the teams stood tied 1-1, but in the top of the 8th the Braves scored a run to take a 2-1 lead.
In the bottom of the 8th, the Mets put a runner on base for their power-hitting catcher. Mets’ faithful were waiting for a big hit, and they got their wish Piazza came to the plate. He hammered a fastball on the outside corner over the center field wall, giving the Mets a 3-2 lead. The crowd erupted with joy, waving American flags and giving their beloved catcher a standing ovation. The Mets would hold on to win the game, 3-2.
10 days after the 9/11 attacks, Mike Piazza hit the most memorable home run in Mets history pic.twitter.com/YWgfbUvrZR
— Baseball Bros (@BaseballBros) September 11, 2020
Piazza said after:
It was a release of emotion and people just wanted to be together. People wanted to cheer about something and to be in the right place at the right time is an honor.
Piazza, already beloved in the baseball community for his gentle spirit and stellar play, became even more respected after this special night. He was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016 and is remembered as one of the best catchers ever to play the game. But none of his career accomplishments compare to his game-winning home run ten days after 9/11, when he gave New York citizens a little bit of joy and hope in a time of terrible suffering.