I watched on television in horror that Sept. 11 day in 2001 as the second of the Twin Towers crumbled onto the streets of Manhattan. The site of those falling buildings proved one of the darkest days in U.S. history, a disaster that galvanized this nation like nothing people had witnessed.
Not that Americans hadn’t seen horrific events before; we had seen plenty.
To our parents or grandparents, the attack on Pearl Harbor remains vivid. How about the bombing in Oklahoma City? And what person from my generation can’t still see the streets of urban America aflame in the 1960s, an event that ate at the nation’s core. Those riots in Detroit, Watts, Newark, Cleveland and elsewhere frightened us, pulling us inward instead of outward to find lasting solutions to these still unresolved problems of racism and poverty.
But 9/11 did the reverse. It brought strangers of all colors together. They shared tears and hugs and anger and frustrations. They shared love and displayed American grit, even as confusion reigned like a warlord over why this wickedness had visited U.S. soil.
For days, that confusion paralyzed Americans, dazed us like a punch to our midsection. We knew not what to do next. How could we? After Oklahoma City, we never expected to see another act straight out of a Third World handbook on terrorism.
This kind of madness should not happen here. Not in America.
But one thing we are is resilient souls. Our pioneering spirit won’t brook inaction, and we acted – all of us in some way. We forged ahead, and our lives started ticking again.
For me, the ticking began anew in Pittsburgh at PNC Park. Baseball had decided to resume play, and the Mets came there for a series with the Pirates. I was there to write about ballplayers who were, eventually, going to have to play in the shadows of this carnage. But could they go ahead with their lives?
Those were Bobby Valentine’s Mets, and I won’t forget how Valentine had little to say about the games his Mets were going to play but had plenty to say about the importance of moving forward. After the Twin Towers fell, he and his players had assumed heroic roles.
They had pitched in to offer a hand. They lent their time and opened their wallets to put the pieces of Manhattan back together.
I remember that Valentine, the best manager not working in the Major Leagues, dismissed talk then of any heroism on his part – or on his players’ part. He said they all had a duty to help, as every American did. He saw nothing heroic about doing his civic duty.
In times of crisis, baseball has had men like Valentine who helped the sport play the role of the healer. It did during World War I and World War II; it did so during 9/11, too. Times like these made “American” a word without class distinction or racial connotation; they mixed, not separated, religion and political ideology.
As we hold an eight-year remembrance of 9/11, we might want to revisit the lessons baseball taught us. Today, the nation finds itself in a different crisis, one that has shaken our lives as much as 9/11 did.
But our nation must come together if it is to solve this current crisis. Using a page from baseball’s playbook from eight years ago, we need the kind of pitch-in-and-help approach that brought Manhattan back to life.