Every September 11th, I Watch ‘Nine Innings From Ground Zero.’ You Should Too

As we add another year to the amount of time our country is removed from the September 11th Attacks, the spirit of #NeverForget has yet to wane. Still today, there are ceremonies of remembrance all around the country, from Ground Zero and Shanksville, PA to the hallways of Capitol Hill and private homes of those whose loved ones perished that day.

There are even ways of reliving September 11, 2001 digitally. Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer live tweets a minute-by-minute rundown of the day’s events every year (he was with President Bush in Florida and throughout the day). It’s both haunting and illuminating, a necessary prescription for those who’d like to reflect on what transpired at the highest rungs of government that fateful day.

Everyone remembers 9/11 in their own way. Heck, most high school students today were not yet alive when the Twin Towers fell and the world changed forever. I was in the 1st grade. At that age, my daily life was dominated by one thing above all others.

Baseball.

My passion for our national pastime at that stage in my life could best be described as playfully obsessive. When I was at school, I drew pictures of tan diamonds encircled by a sea of green grass. When I was at home, I was either outside with a bat in my hand or in front of the television, listening to Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy call Red Sox games on NESN, the local Boston sports network. When I slept, I often placed my glove under my pillow to ensure it stayed broken in. A blue quilt painted with MLB team logos kept me warm.

When our nation was attacked by nineteen evil, cowardly men—though I couldn’t wholly comprehend the attack’s magnitude or the ideology that inspired it—I felt the same sorrow that swept over every American. To console myself, I turned to family and I turned to baseball.

In 2004, HBO released a documentary called Nine Innings From Ground Zero. A stunning piece with the emotional impact of a freight train, I try to watch it every year in early September. It’s one thing I do to never forget. It’s also brings me back to the days of my childhood, when my unadulterated love for the game flourished.

After 9/11, many of America’s economic and cultural motors stopped spinning. The one I noticed most, of course, was Major League Baseball—the season was suspended for about a week and the World Series was pushed back to its latest start ever. But as this country always does, we rebuilt and returned to a semblance of normalcy a few weeks later.

Nine Innings From Ground Zero beautifully displays how baseball became a primary coping mechanism for New Yorkers and all Americans following the deadliest terrorist attack in our nation’s history. You can see the cautious relief on New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s face when, at a press conference, he announces that he’ll be attending a New York Mets game that night, the first sporting event in the city since September 11.

On September 21, 2001, the Atlanta Braves met to embrace the Mets players at the center of Shea Stadium in a rare moment of sportsmanship and camaraderie between the National League East rivals. In the bottom of the eighth inning, the entire city of New York smiled and cheered for the first time in ten days when Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza hit a home run to propel the Mets to victory. Nine Innings makes sure you know how important that moment was, and you can feel it.

Fortunately for the grieving city of New York, there was even more baseball to play in the Autumn of 2001. The city’s most beloved Yankees (sorry, Mets fans) made it to the World Series for the fourth consecutive year. The men in pinstripes offered New York a monumental opportunity to heal.

The Yankees were up against a formidable opponent in the 2001 Series. The Arizona Diamondbacks had future Hall of Famer Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, who is already enshrined in Cooperstown, as a major one-two punch in their starting rotation. Though certainly not lacking superstars of their own, the Yanks were facing a challenge. The Schilling-Johnson duo brought the pain in Games 1 and 2 and the Yankees faced an 0-2 deficit in the seven-game series. The teams flew back to New York City.

To open Game 3, none other than George W. Bush, who not two months earlier became a wartime president, threw out the most memorable ceremonial first pitch in history. He delivered a perfect strike, throwing the full 60′ 6″ from pitchers mound to home plate, and the crowd could not have been more inspired.

The film overlays footage of this powerful pregame ceremony with a quote from President Bush, one that echoes through the sixteen years since that moment.

“United we stand. We stand together in the face of this threat. We will play baseball in the midst of the beginning of this war. No matter what the threat may be to us, the United States of America will stand strong and will never be intimidated.”

The Yankees went on to win the next three games of the World Series in dramatic fashion with Games 4 and 5 both going to extra innings. Accompanying highlights from each game, Nine Innings intertwines footage from Ground Zero—work crews and firefighters digging through the wreckage in the hopes of rescuing people still trapped in the rubble (or exhuming bodies to deliver to final resting places).

Included in the film are interviews of players from the Yankees and Diamondbacks, New York City officials, sports journalists, and more. The most emotionally piercing moments, however, are delivered by the family members of loved ones who perished on 9/11. One daughter of an FDNY chief, another of a United Airlines pilot, explain how the baseball stadium became a sanctuary free from grief. Kieran Lynch, who had two brothers who died on the highest floors of the World Trade Center, attended a game without them, but he was not alone. He found family in the raucous bleachers of Yankee Stadium.

It seems as though everyone in the country, apart from members of the Diamondbacks organization and Arizona residents, was pulling for the Yankees to win. Yes, even I, a die-hard Red Sox fan, could sense the importance of this series to the people of New York. That feeling still pounds on my chest upon viewing Nine Innings.

Facing a 3-2 deficit in the series, the Diamondbacks battled back at home to force a seventh and final game. In a moment I will never forget, Luis Gonzalez chipped a single over the middle of the infield in the bottom of the 9th inning, sending the walk-off runner home. In that moment, few people really thought about the jubilant Diamondbacks players and coaches other than their own fans. Everyone else’s hearts and minds were fixed in two places: the devastated New York Yankees dugout and Ground Zero.

In sports, that perfect, poetic moment of triumph is often elusive. Miracles like the 1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic Hockey Team or the New England Patriots’ epic comeback against the Falcons in Super Bowl LI don’t happen every year. For the 2001 New York Yankees, it seemed as though such a moment was predestined, and yet it flew away as quickly as that Gonzalez blooper over second base.

What Nine Innings From Ground Zero captures so beautifully is the people of New York’s resolve in the wake of terror and the essence of why baseball is our national pastime. Though it documents the story of a wounded nation and a defeated team, one can’t help but feel uplifted upon its conclusion. It is a film that strikes at the heart of what makes our country great and one that every patriotic American should watch.

“New York had become a symbol of strength to the rest of the nation. Healing had taken many forms and come from many sources. Those who were caught up in the high drama of the World Series had found their healing in the simple pleasure of watching a baseball game.”

Watch Nine Innings From Ground Zero below:

 

Cover image courtesy of Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images

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