By Marc Rasbury
There is not a person over the age of 15, who does not remember what they were doing around 8:45 am on the morning of September 11, 2001. That is when a large jumbo jet crashed into the World Trade Center Tower One. About 30 minutes later, a second plane crashed into Tower Two. In a thirty minute period, our lives were changed forever. Americans no longer felt that we were isolated from the hostile attacks that others around the world experienced on a daily basis.
As we traditionally do in time of crisis, New Yorkers along with kind hearted citizens from all over the world, including the father of New York Jets QB Mark Sanchez, joined together to not only to attempt to save the lives of those still trapped under all that rubble but to restore the way of life we enjoyed before that fateful day. The first responders and the crews hired to clean up that site now know as Ground Zero needed more than resolve to complete the task at hand. Some relied on their religion or faiths while others even needed some counseling to get them through their shifts. Then there were those who were lifted by the world of sports.
You might snicker at the thought that the sports world played a significant role in the recovery efforts down at the site. And you might ask me how I would know this as a sports writer. You see at the time, I was a designed engineer for Verizon and I was responsible for maintaining and upgrading the company’s infrastructure and facilities just below the Trade Center Complex. So when the communication service needed to be restored in that area, I was immediately assigned to the Verizon/West Street Restoration Team and worked in and around Ground Zero for the next six months.
I can’t tell you how much it meant to the rescue workers to see players from the various New York Sports teams come down to Ground Zero. The Knicks’ Alan Houston, Giants’ Tiki Barber and Armani Toomer, the Yanks Derek Jeter and Tino Martinez and the Mets’ Mike Piazza, were just a few of players that came down to Ground Zero to greet, encourage and hand out supplies to the workers as they worked in the muck and mire. Then when the mission switched from rescue to recovery and the games resumed, those contests really lifted the spirits of the workers.
Most New Yorkers remember when Piazza hit that walk-off home run to defeat the hated Atlanta Braves in the first game back. Even the Braves’ Chipper Jones had to give the Mets catcher a pound as he crossed home plate. As a matter of fact both teams were there to applaud Piazza after his home run trot.
However, the New York Yankees World Series run was one of the unifying themes of that fall. From the Divisional Playoffs to the Fall Classic, it seemed as if all of the workers became baseball fans during the playoffs. Very few individuals discussed their respective scopes of work. I guess they wanted to take their minds off of their tasks at hand. It was depressing enough to actually work under those conditions, so discussing your experiences during your breaks was not in someone’s best interest. That is where conversations about sports, music or one’s favorite hobbies came into play. The Yankees dominated all down time talks.
With Ground Zero serving as a backdrop, we were treated to one of the more memorable playoff runs in quite some time. The Yankees defeated the Seattle Mariners, one of the more talented teams ever assembled, in the Divisional Series and then clawed their way back to defeat Oakland Athletics in the ALCS which featured the Jeter’s famous flip play that saved a game tying run. Despite working double digit hour shifts, folks kept up on what the Yankee were doing.
You could not go one block without hearing the games over a transistor radio or a boom box set up in the manholes were Verizon or Con Edison crews were working. It got to the point where it actually sounded like you were at the Stadium with so radios playing and fans cheering, taking in every pitch. What made it so exciting was that most of that year’s Fall Classics were truly classic games. It was so riveting HBO produced a documentary about the series three years later.
The Bronx Bombers returned home down two games. Then they won all three home games with each ending on a walk off home run. Martinez hit one, Jeter hit one and Scott Brosius hitting one to end Game 5. I remember the Brosius shot like it was yesterday. I was cutting through City Hall Park to head back to one of our work stations when I heard this loud roar. The Yankees third baseman just sent a pitch over the fence to nail the victory. That roar was the collective sounds of the workers around Ground Zero who were listening to the game. Like I said, you would have thought you were at the corner of 161stStreet and River Avenue in the Bronx instead Broadway and Vesey Street in lower Manhattan.
I tell you the various crews were amped after watching the Yankees win three games in dramatic fashion. After the Brosius blast one could hear choruses of Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York well into the night. Unfortunately, the celebration was short lived after the Yanks dropped the next two in Arizona giving the Diamondbacks the title. But for little over a month that Yankee playoff run was something to behold especially considering what the City was going through. That run definitely gave the City and the workers a much needed distraction. It did not change what happened or make people forget. It just took our minds off it for a moment and it helped in so many ways.
Working down in Ground Zero showed me one thing. That when New Yorkers, and Americans in general, are pushed into a corner we can answer the bell. But more importantly we have the ability to put our differences aside and work together to complete a common goal. As I watch all of the bickering between the two major political parties, I have to ask myself where is the cooperative spirit I saw down at Ground Zero. I hope that it does not take a natural disaster or an alien attack for us to come together again in that manner.
That may be wishful thinking. It was nice to see it happen and know that we have the capacity to do it.
No, sports did not bring back any of the thirty five hundred individuals including two of my good friends nor did it make us forget what happen that faithful day. But those athletic contests did help us take our minds off what was going on down at Ground Zero. It did help bring the first responders, rescue workers, and the city together and helped us to temporarily “ease the pain.”