Archive for Sunday, September 16, 2001

Tragedy hits close to home for Mets

September 16, 2001

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— Edgardo Alfonzo carried cardboard boxes to be filled with relief supplies.

A large American flag hung outside Bobby Valentine's door, little flags lined the dugout railing.

John Franco spoke quietly about his son's Little League coach, a New York City firefighter who was still missing.

Back home at Shea Stadium, where the twin towers used to be visible from the upper walkways, the New York Mets did their best to get back to baseball with a light workout Saturday.

But reminders of Tuesday's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center were everywhere. Firefighters were sleeping in the ballpark and the parking lot continued to be used as a staging area for rescue workers.

"There's not one person in this organization that hasn't been affected by this on a personal level," Mike Piazza said. "This at least gives us a chance to take our minds off the depression. We have to find some way to move on."

All around the majors, teams returned to the field fully aware that baseball was still an afterthought in America.

At Yankee Stadium, players kneeled around the pitcher's mound, heads bowed for a moment of silence. Owner George Steinbrenner donated $1 million on behalf of the team to the Twin Towers Foundation and the club donated its tarp, which was being used as a covering near the wreckage.

Outside Turner Field, the sign that usually lists Atlanta's next opponent read: "God Bless America."

The Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals played intrasquad games and several other teams held workouts.

"We realize it's our job. We'll do our part, however small, to let people enjoy us playing baseball," Texas pitcher Rick Helling said. "Hopefully, we can do a small part to make this situation better."

Games will resume Monday, with American flags replacing the major league logo on baseballs.

Outside Shea Stadium, dozens of police officers, firefighters and volunteers scurried around the parking lot to collect donated supplies that were then loaded onto trucks and vans to be carried into Manhattan for rescue workers.

Many Mets players and coaches pitched in following the workout. Co-owners Fred Wilpon and Nelson Doubleday, in a rare public appearance together, said they would donate $1 million to the relief effort. Piazza, Al Leiter, Robin Ventura and Todd Zeile planned to take a bus to New York University Medical Center after the 11*2-hour workout to drop off more supplies.

Inside, the Mets took batting practice and talked quietly about the terror that hit so close to home. As they did, line drives off Piazza's bat echoed throughout the empty ballpark.

Volunteer firefighters from Ohio, who have been sleeping in the tunnel behind Gate D at Shea Stadium, watched the workout from the stands. Once the Mets saw them, they quickly were brought down to the field and stood around the batting cage.

They were greeted with gratitude by Valentine, Piazza, Leiter, Franco and other players.

"Thank you for letting us stay in your house," one firefighter said to Valentine.

"We appreciate all that you do," Valentine said.

Piazza said he walked around Union Square, not far north of the attack site, on Friday night and was moved by the all the tributes and candlelight vigils.

"At least for us to get out here and get back to what our job is, that's what a lot of people all over the city are doing," Piazza said. "We have to find a way to continue to support what life in America is all about, and that's freedom."

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