On September 21, 2001, the New York Mets took the field against the Atlanta Braves in the first major sporting event since the devastating terrorist attacks ten days earlier on September 11, a day that will forever be etched in all of our memories.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house on that fateful night at Shea Stadium, as emotions were still so raw and most of us were still trying to deal with the tragic loss of life when those two majestic towers collapsed and ripped our hearts out.
The game itself signaled a return to normalcy. It was the first step on a long road back for New York City, for Major League Baseball, and for our country. It was beacon to the world that the United States would go on cherishing our way of life — and that no cowardly terrorist act would ever keep Americans shrouded in fear.
After a somber pre-game ceremony, the Mets and Braves took the field, many of them still visibly emotional and knowing they had a major role to play as a nation watched. But nobody expected the drama that would unfold as the Braves clung to a slim 2-1 lead heading to the bottom of the eighth inning. Mets catcher Mike Piazza slowly strolled to the plate representing the go-ahead run against Braves right-hander Steve Karsay.
“I remember looking up and praying to God, saying, ‘Lord, please give me the strength to get through this, because I don’t know if I can,’” Piazza said about the moment leading up to that at-bat.
But then, with a mighty swing of the bat, Piazza crushed a 1-0 pitch over the center field wall and into the New York night, as the stadium erupted in thunderous cheers and then began chanting, “USA! USA! USA!” as Piazza rounded the bases.
“It was almost like a blur to me, it was almost like a dream, sort of surreal,” Piazza said at the time. “I’m just so happy I gave the people something to cheer. There was a lot of emotion. It was just a surreal sort of energy out there. I’m just so proud to be a part of it.”
The Mets took a 3-2 lead and ultimately won the game, sending all those in attendance home with an inspiring memory, a glimmer of hope, and even a smile – at least for one dramatic and unforgettable night. It happened 17 years ago tonight.
“Sept. 11, 2001 is a day that forever changed our lives,” Piazza would say at his Hall of Fame induction ceremony. “To witness the darkest evil of the human heart and how it tore many loved ones from their families will forever be burned in my soul. But from tragedy and sorrow came bravery, love, compassion, character and, eventually, healing.
“Many of you give me praise for the two-run home run on the first game back on Sept. 21 to push us ahead of the rival Braves. But the true praise belongs to police, firefighters, first responders, who knew they were going to die, but went forward anyway.”
Here is a vignette produced by MLB Network that does a great job of capturing that magical moment with reflections by Mike Piazza himself.