Normality sought, but memories intrude

Day's significance leaves Orioles looking inward

September 12, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Gary Matthews wanted to keep his regular routine yesterday. He would grab some breakfast in the morning, make the usual phone calls, arrive early at the ballpark. The better to keep himself grounded at a time when emotions might knock him off his feet.

Matthews didn't want to watch television, where most stations were providing coverage of ceremonies at the World Trade Center. Names were recited of the people killed in the terrorist attacks exactly one year ago. Families, still grieving, spoke of coping with their losses, of babies born without fathers to hold them.

Maybe he would tune into ESPN and scan the sports section of his newspaper - not the front page - before leaving the Orioles' hotel in midtown Manhattan. That's about all Matthews thought he could handle.

"I tried," he said, "to keep it as normal as possible."

Then Matthews, fresh off the disabled list, headed to the outfield for some running before batting practice. Stadium personnel were making the arrangements for the pre-game ceremony. He spotted the bald eagle, Challenger, practicing flights from the center field bleachers.

"I just didn't want to be bombarded with all the images again," he said, "but then it starts to hit you."

None of the Orioles were immune. The 144th game of their season felt so much different. Winning still meant something, but not like other nights.

They wore patches on their sleeves shaped like the Pentagon, with nine stripes and 11 stars. The entire team stood on the top step of the dugout as the tributes unfolded, and marched in single file toward the third-base dugout for the anthem.

And for the first time that any of the Orioles could remember, fans greeted them as warmly as the home club. Everyone was on the same side.

"The game is definitely secondary," said pitcher Pat Hentgen. "I don't even know if it's second."

"There are some heavy hearts all around the country," Matthews said, "and especially here in New York. It's really a weird feeling to be here. Last year on Sept. 11, I was in Pittsburgh when all this happened. It's definitely a different feeling being in New York."

No matter how much they tried to keep it all the same.

Larry Bigbie did some shopping in the morning. Other players slept late and watched television in their rooms. Many of them avoided the images of last Sept. 11. Manager Mike Hargrove debated whether to visit Ground Zero, but said he didn't want to "add to the confusion."

"I got up and started watching some of the ceremonies. My kids called me, my wife called me. They were all crying. It was fairly typical of everybody else," he said.

"I saw some stories that make you hurt so bad," said Jerry Hairston. "Some of the wives were pregnant when their husbands were killed. That's when I started thinking about my family. You realize how precious life is."

"The game is secondary, especially for the people here," said Matthews. "But the best thing about this sport and the talent that we have as players is being able to share it with everyone, and to go out and do what we do and help people get away from it all."

It worked for Anthony Friel, a Brownsville firefighter whose company lost nine men. Friel and five of his co-workers spent yesterday at the site.

"A couple of guys said, `Let's go to a game. What's more New York?' It's a nice part of the day," he said. "After reliving all that happened last year, all the brothers that have died, it's nice to get away for a while."

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