By Josh Greene
Ten years ago this week, the Major League Baseball season had officially resumed following a week-long moratorium after 9-11.
It had been 10 days since the devastation in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania, and the impending Braves-Mets series at Shea Stadium marked the first professional sporting event in the Big Apple since the tragedies.
D-backs pitcher Jason Marquis, who was on an Atlanta pitching staff that included Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Kevin Millwood that year, was scheduled to start for the Braves in the series opener vs. their arch-rival Mets.
“I was the fourth guy in the rotation and that start just happened to fall on my day,” Marquis said. “I’m from New York, so I was happy to get back to my friends and family. New Yorkers have a way of coming together, and I saw that when I went home.”
In the week leading up to the game, the ballpark had been a makeshift staging area for World Trade Center rescuers. As the facility transformed itself back into baseball mode, emotions were understandably high as the fans and players made their way under the stadium lights.
“It was definitely more emotional than any start I’ve ever had,” Marquis said. “Obviously, the impact of the game was bigger with the Mets than us with the Braves, but personally, it meant a lot to me being from New York. When you step between the lines, you always try to separate the outside world from the game. I was trying to focus on pitching and not the ceremonies and the national anthem and ‘God Bless America.’ As a player you have to switch the focus to the job at hand, just like fans were trying to change their focus from the outside world.”
With the Braves nursing a 2-1 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth inning, a walk to the Mets’ Edgardo Alfonzo brought up the potential go-ahead run in the form of catcher Mike Piazza. The 12-time All-Star seized the moment, depositing a 1-2 pitch from reliever Steve Karsay into the stands to put New York ahead for good en route to a 3-2 win.
“I get emotional when I think about it,” Piazza said. “First off, it’s really an honor for me the way people put that game and that home run in such high regard. At the time, I was just trying to hold it together emotionally as a team and as a city. What jumps out mostly was that we didn’t know if we should even be there. We were thinking, ‘What time was really the right time to come back and move on with life?’ The fact we had that anxiety and trepidation and we were able to go out there, execute and play, and have a great moment for the city was something very rewarding.
“I just think that the whole week was so emotionally draining. To go out there and play a baseball game was very physically and emotionally difficult. We had gone through so much just from being in shock and anger and that whole spectrum of emotions, and then have to go out and play a baseball game. You begin to internalize life in general. You had to refocus as a man and as a professional. There were a lot of underlying emotions that were ripping us apart, so to have a really great night was divine intervention, a lot of prayer, a lot of support and a lot of people coming together spiritually.”
And even though he was on the short end of the final score, Marquis is honored to have played a minor role in baseball’s contribution to New York’s – and the country’s – overall healing process.
“It was the only time I stepped onto the field and didn’t mind the other team winning,” Marquis said. “And keep in mind those guys were our biggest rivals during those days. It was good for the city to be able to clap and be happy for that moment. When the fans went home and put their heads on their pillows, their thoughts may have gone elsewhere. But for those three hours, to see smiles on faces of people who couldn’t smile, that was huge and to be a participant meant a lot to me.”