Baseball does its part by playing on in thick, thin


NEW YORK - Baseball will be played here tonight. Yankees-Orioles. It said so right up there on the side of Yankee Stadium. In big block letters it promised: Baltimore, 7:05 p.m.

Baseball goes on, like life does, though not without a long, sad pause at 9:11 p.m. and an undeniable sense that despite our routines and return to normalcy, nothing is quite the same.

When the baseball schedule came out and the Orioles saw they were going to play the Yankees in New York on Sept. 11, it was not a date to be anticipated with any relish.

The anniversary poses a powerfully personal question for everyone: how to commemorate the tragedy. But to be in New York or at the Pentagon or among those mourning those brave, doomed airline passengers, this necessitates an extra dose of emotional resolve.

"I know some of the guys were scared," Orioles outfielder Melvin Mora said yesterday.

"We took a train all the way here and some of the guys were talking about it. I told the guys: 'Listen, New Yorkers are strong people.' I talked to each of them, especially the Latin players, and said it's different playing here. People don't care. If they get hit, they say, 'Let's go.' Nobody stops in this city. Look at what happened to all these people, and they still are strong."

Mora, whose big-league career started with the New York Mets and whose wife is from the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, feels in his heart he's still part New Yorker. The words he preached on the train to his teammates turned out to be exactly the correct read on the city.

"When we stepped off the train [in New York Monday] and the guys saw that people in New York weren't scared, they understood. There was no anxiety. People were out walking in the streets, going to work, doing what they do. Like I tell my wife, New York is New York. People move forward."

On the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks, they'll move forward despite the anguish and the fear. They'll move forward despite the anger and the sadness.

And baseball will be part of the day, despite the tragic losses - far too many, far too deep for any single human to fathom.

"This is going to be tough for everyone," Yankees pitcher Mike Stanton said yesterday.

"Our role is going to be the role we've had since the tragedy: to get people's minds off the state of the world."

Even on this day, playing baseball is the right thing to do.

At least it's one of the right things to do, along with the church services and community gatherings and the rolling requiems of Mozart's music that will bind together cities and people across America and the world.

Yesterday, Roger Clemens talked about how the fire company closest to his Manhattan apartment was Ladder Co. 22. After it was clear that 343 firefighters were killed at the World Trade Center, Clemens said he could not resist the pull to be around that firehouse.

"It's just strange that it turned out to be same number as the one I wear on my jersey, but I just started going down there. They gave me a jacket. I told them I'd wear it with pride. Eventually, I had it signed, and they auctioned it off to help raise more money," Clemens said.

"But it helped me, too. When I stand on the mound and hear fighter planes whipping around over the city, it makes you think about other places in the world that live in that kind of disarray all the time. What we do as ballplayers is very minor, but to be down at the [World Trade Center] site and then to come and put on the pinstripes of the New York Yankees, it gives you a lighter spirit knowing that baseball for some people has a big place.

"Still," Clemens said, "it's going to be hard [tonight] thinking of all those loved ones that were lost."

Playing baseball is only one part of making sure normalcy remains. It is a better, more powerful statement that the game goes on because the alternative could send the wrong message: a sign of defeat.

One year later, Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina said the inclination to carry on, to play, even though "there are things much more important to people than baseball" is no different than the resolve shown a year ago.

Back then, going back to work, in any manner, felt like a political statement. It was an expression of America's freedom and strength just to drive your car again, to go out in public, to make plane reservations. Going to the ballpark was no different.

"We didn't want to change our daily life too much," Mussina said. "That's why we were attacked, to try and change the way we go about things. We didn't want that to change or to not have the freedoms we do. Part of our daily routine is to watch baseball, and we want to get the American lifestyle back into motion."

One year later, it is still impossible to believe what happened, let alone why. No one is entirely sure what comes next, except that it must be something, so like all those other things we did before Sept. 11, 2001 - working, parenting, loving, playing - baseball has a mandate to go on.

Yankees manager Joe Torre remembered how, one year ago, the idea of playing baseball in the wake of the terrorist attacks turned from wrong and impossible into something necessary.

Torre said that during the week major-league baseball postponed games, players didn't know if they should be there or not during that first team workout.

"And I couldn't tell the players whether they should or not, other than this was what we were supposed to do. But on that Saturday, once the team gathered and went ... down to Manhattan to the Armory where families were waiting word about their loved ones, their lost ones, we were welcomed in there by the families. I think we realized then that we are still part of their lives. We realized pretty quick that we had an obligation because of all the sadness, we needed to go back to work. It was our job."

That job is not done. Probably never will be.

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