Yankee Stadium fitting spot to end day

September 12, 2002|By Laura Vecsey

NEW YORK - The day began with the reading of the most solemn, sad roster imaginable.

We shall not forget.

Absolutely.

From the hole in the ground where the Twin Towers once stood, name after noble name was breathed into the air yesterday.

And the air stirred.

It whipped and spun all over sunny New York City, making people here believe that the souls of the lost were restless.

One year later, one year to the day that 2,801 victims were killed at the World Trade Center, it was impossible not to at least consider that the calling of those names was why tree branches snapped off and crashed to the ground; why dirt blew up in mini-twisters; why hats flew and hair swirled.

By nightfall, a few miles north in the Bronx, that same restless wind snapped the flags at Yankee Stadium, including the American flag that stood at half-staff.

Everyone agreed: In this uncharted territory of mourning and recovery and war, it was a relief that a year had passed. Likewise, it was a necessary burden to stop and commemorate this most awful anniversary.

No one could begin to imagine that last night was just any night; nor was it just any ballgame. Not even here, in a city that considers itself the center of the universe; tougher and stronger than any other place, any other people.

And somehow, on a day that through television spliced together wrenching services from lower Manhattan to the Pentagon to Shanksville, Pa., it was strangely fitting that one of the final public images beamed out into the universe yesterday came from here.

"We were tough and united right away after the attacks a year ago, and this is a night when we can show how tough we still are," Yankees manager Joe Torre said.

The TV people understood that, which is why - despite the presence of the slumping Orioles as the visiting team - the Yankees were chosen to be the night game on ESPN.

In fact, it seemed to better serve the night's mood when the Orioles acted like bit players in the New York show, at least early in the game.

In the second and third innings, pitcher John Stephens served up homers to Robin Ventura and Alfonso Soriano - a three-run shot that brought a thunder of applause because it was No. 36 on the season, tying Bret Boone's American League record for home runs by a second baseman.

The crack of the bat; the flight of the home run balls; the chant for MVP at the red-hot Soriano - it all seemed to be scripted parts of the evening's proceedings: just what the baseball gods ordered and maybe what everyone outside of Orioles fans needed.

The call to the bullpen to replace Yankees starting pitcher Orlando Hernandez could not come soon enough for the crowd after El Duque allowed the Orioles back into the game.

"You wanted to be here," said Karl Murphy, an officer with the Danbury, Conn., police department who said he bought tickets six months ago, just so he could be at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 11.

"We went down to the [World Trade Center] site the day after the attacks, so I knew this was where I wanted to be. This was a good way to end the day. It's a ballgame, but it's more than a ballgame. The ceremonies and everything, you know at Yankee Stadium they're going to do it big, do it right."

Goodness knows, Yankee Stadium has long been the repository for souls and memories. They call this place hallowed ground, with the monuments commemorating Hall of Famers and Yankee greats.

Last night, the hallowed ground became so much more undeniable.

A new monument commemorating heroes and victims of the World Trade Center was unveiled. Bigger than the ones for Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio, it was a fitting next step for a place that got used to producing so many emotional nights - including those from last October, when baseball resumed in the name of normality and the American way.

During their postseason run last autumn, the Yankees found a way to at once take responsibility for helping America feel normal and also draw energy from people who wanted to believe that Yankees victories were a reassuring metaphor for a reeling nation.

"It was definitely a different feeling after Sept. 11. It's been that way since last year, when we felt like the Yankees were representing all of the city, all of New York, for everyone," said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

"I'd hear that from people everywhere we went. Win it for New York."

Baseball has never shied away from that kind of metaphoric duty and last night, it was no different.

On a day that started with the recitation of a most tragic, unending roster of terror victims, night-time brought forth the comfort of a small, manageable and distracting rosters.

Those were the names etched on lineup cards by Torre and Orioles manager Mike Hargrove.

Soriano, Jeter, Giambi, Williams, Posada, Ventura, Mondesi, Johnson and Rivera for the Yankees.

Singleton, Hairston, Richard, Batista, Gibbons, Conine, Bigbie, Gil and Bordick for the Orioles.

This is the simplicity and power of a game like baseball that somehow lends itself to a reliable form of human comfort.

"Everything comes to light here," said Frank Tepedino, a former Yankee who was drafted by the Orioles back in 1965 and whose current job is with the Fire Patrol No. 2.

From his company's station in Greenwich Village, Tepedino's unit was one of the first to respond that morning at the World Trade Center. One year later, Tepedino started his day yesterday with a memorial service for the "one kid we lost from our station," he said.

But this Sept. 11 ended at the ballpark, at Yankee Stadium, because, Tepedino said: "There's no better way. Everyone wants to continue. Everyone wants to go on. And that's what we're doing."

And as he spoke, his words took flight in the restless wind.

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