Normalcy not part of Series lineup

November 05, 2001|By Tom Waldron

NEW YORK - Maybe it was the fervent cheer that greeted the two jet fighters swooping overhead. Or it could have been the "Evacuation Route" advisory that flashed on the scoreboard telling fans how to get out of the ballpark.

But at some point during the World Series game in New York Tuesday night, it became distressingly clear to me how much even baseball has changed since Sept. 11. Over and over again, the game between the Yankees and Diamondbacks delivered vivid reminders of the hard reality of American life these days. The Fall Classic morphed into a display of super-patriotism that left me more depressed than uplifted.

The ticket to Yankee Stadium for my first World Series game had come out of the blue. Heading up from Baltimore Tuesday afternoon, I stopped in Princeton, N.J., to visit my mother.

Not one to worry about distant risks, my mother has spent the last several days near Ground Zero of the anthrax war. Her mail, which normally moves through the Hamilton Township post office where anthrax was found, hadn't been delivered in days. She seemed genuinely perplexed why I, along with my brother-in-law, would go to perhaps the richest potential terrorist target in the country.

"What if something happened? It would leave such a hole in the family," she said, only half-joking.

I wasn't worried. And as we left the D Train in the Bronx a couple hours later, I was convinced that nothing bad was going to happen: Yankee Stadium had been turned into an armed camp.

New York police officers, some with bomb-sniffing dogs, were everywhere; lights and sirens filled the streets.

Barricades sealed off stadium gates, forcing fans to climb over concrete barriers to enter the game.

Vendors hawked T-shirts that blurred support for the Yankees with references to the city's beloved firefighters and police.

A man with a bullhorn advised fans to pull out their keys, wallets and cell phones for inspection. Inside the gate, every fan had to pass through a metal detector. Just past the detectors, a stadium employee gamely handed out souvenir World Series pins, as well as miniature American flags. "Enjoy the game," she urged us.

Inside the stadium where Ruth, Gehrig and DiMaggio once ruled, sharpshooters scrambled up to the highest reaches. A tattered flag that had been retrieved from the World Trade Center wreckage waved on a flagpole in center field, and West Point cadets unrolled a huge American flag in center field.

A half-hour before game time, a convoy of military helicopters landed out past center field, and the stadium speakers blared with the militaristic "Battle Hymn of the Republic." As the son of the New York fire commissioner concluded the National Anthem, a bald eagle sailed through the stadium. Moments later, two Navy fighters roared overhead and disappeared.

In the not-so-distant past, a politician who ventured onto a Major League baseball field before a game would expect to be booed.

But as President Bush strode onto the field to throw out the first ball, the stadium erupted in what would be, by far, the loudest cheers of the night: a raucous chant of "U-S-A, U-S-A."

With untold numbers of Secret Service agents anxiously scanning the crowd, Mr. Bush jauntily made his way to the mound, flashing thumbs-ups to the players and then the fans.

He wore a roomy New York Fire Department jacket, which no doubt covered a bulletproof jacket. Even so, he delivered a splendid fastball that split the plate and drew another exuberant ovation.

Oh, yes, there was also a game, a near classic, 2-1 victory for the Yankees. The crowd was spirited, but less so than in years past, according to veteran Yankee fans.

Maybe it was the bracing cold.

More likely it had something to do with the relentless bad news about killer germs and distant, seemingly unwinnable wars.

Mr. Bush has consistently urged Americans to return to their normal lives. And his appearance at the game was justifiably praised as an effort to do just that.

But it took 1,500 cops and metal detectors to do it.

Even at the ballpark, "normal" is different now.

Tom Waldron, a former reporter for The Sun, is a free-lance writer who lives in Baltimore.

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