The memories are so vivid, the feelings still so close to the surface, that two different men can speak of it and sound remarkably similar.
“I’m not going to lie,” Tom Glavine said last week in a phone interview. “There was a little bit of eeriness about it. Some anxiety. Conspiracy theories abounded at that time that more stuff was going to happen. You put yourself right in the epicenter, so to speak. There was a little anxiety, but at the same time, some excitement about being the first team back in New York.”
“For us, to have the opportunity to open the national pastime in New York, it was scary and exciting,” Brian Jordan said in a separate phone interview.
They both were talking, you probably figured out, of the September 21, 2001 Braves-Mets game at Shea Stadium, the first professional sports event to take place in New York after the September 11 terrorist attacks. A moment so powerful in New York sports history — perhaps even in New York City history, period — that Mike Piazza arguably is remembered as much for his game-winning, eighth-inning homer that night as for his other 432 round-trippers (including the postseason) that got him into the Hall of Fame.
For sure, Glavine and Jordan treasure being there that night … and they played for the losing team.
Jordan, a Baltimore native who played for the Atlanta Falcons before deciding to focus on baseball, flirted with New York in the 1998-99 offseason when, as a free agent, he visited Yankee Stadium.
“In New York, they’re under pressure every single night. I love that environment,” Jordan said. “Playing for [George] Steinbrenner, I wish that could’ve happened, I loved Steinbrenner. I loved everything about him — when we visited, we talked football — but I knew that Bernie [Williams] was on the top of his list.”
And the Massachusetts native Glavine of course joined the Mets for the 2003 season and spent five years there, notching his 300th career win in 2007, before returning to Atlanta.
“For me, going to play there a couple of years later, I really got an understanding of how far reaching [9/11] was,” he said.
A significant part of what made that night so special was the intensity of the Mets-Braves rivalry.
“I don’t know if ‘hate’ was the right word,” Glavine said, “but we certainly didn’t like each other.”
You had the dueling Bobbys, managers Valentine and Cox, who didn’t even try to hide their mutual contempt. You had Chipper “Larry” Jones, who delighted in trolling Mets fans, and Piazza. And before the game, the two sides exchanged hugs that sure looked sincere and understanding of the game’s value.
It was Jordan who doubled off Armando Benitez in the top of the eighth, driving home Cory Aldridge to break a 1-1 tie — and setting up Piazza’s heroics in the bottom of the inning with one out, Desi Relaford on first base and Flushing native (and future Yankee) Steve Karsay on the mound for Atlanta.
“My competitive nature went away that game,” Jordan said. “I’m just going to be honest. It was meant to be to have that ending in New York, For Piazza, their [de facto] captain, a Hall of Famer, to come up like that in that spot, it was one game I didn’t care about losing.”
“When Piazza hit the home run, it was kind of like, ‘OK, that was supposed to be,’ ” Glavine said. “ ‘These people needed this a whole lot more than we needed to win a game.’ It was the only game that we played at that level where I felt that way.”
When you add up that game with the Mets’ actions preceding it (setting up Shea as a staging area for relief workers) and proceeding it (helping establish Tuesday’s Children, the Mets truly shone in a very dark time for the country. They still do when it comes to remembering 9/11. When the Mets host the Diamondbacks on Wednesday, thousands of first responders — including representatives from the FDNY, NYPD, Port Authority Police Department, Department of Sanitation and NYC Emergency Management — will be honored on the field in a pregame ceremony.
We urge people to never forget what happened that day and after it. Rest assured, the Braves have not forgotten the incredible sights, sounds and emotions from the night baseball returned to New York.
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