Ten days after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the New York Mets had returned home in what would be the first professional sporting event to take place in the city since that tragic day. Nearly 20 years later, the events of that night are still remembered for being a pivotal moment in the nation’s healing.
Major League Baseball had canceled all its games for a week after 9/11. Play would resume but the Mets would not return to Shea Stadium until Sept. 21.
There was hesitancy up until right before the first pitch. Was it too soon? Were New Yorkers ready to pack a stadium and celebrate? Was it even safe?
The unknown consumed the minds of every player, including the visiting Atlanta Braves.
“Should we be here? Is it too soon? We had a lot of trepidation, we had a lot of anxiety,” Mets’ catcher Mike Piazza told WCBS this week. “Terrorism was still prevalent in our minds, was still on our thoughts. A lot of the fear of the unknown. We didn’t know what was gonna happen, we didn’t know what the feeling would be.”
The Mets were losing when Piazza stepped up to the plate at the bottom of the eighth. There was a runner on base and the normal pressures of baseball seemed insignificant to the pressure of giving New Yorkers something to distract themselves with.
“I had the gift of focus and I felt very calm and I was able to slow the moment down,” Piazza said.
He would hit the game-winning home run, arguably his most significant home run.
As a somber Piazza rounded the bases as the crowd of over 40,000 buzzed.
Left fielder Joe McEwing #47, shortstop John Valentin #4, catcher Mike Piazza #31, third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo #13 and right fielder Jeromy Burnitz #20 of the New York Mets hold their FDNY and NYPD hats over their hearts during the national anthem before the second game of a MLB double-header against the Atlanta Braves on September 11, 2002 at Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia. The Mets shut out the Braves 5-0. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
“It was a release of emotion and people just wanted to be together,” he continued. “People wanted to cheer about something and to be in the right place at the right time is an honor.”
Piazza was a hero in New York long before that moment but his time with the Mets will always be highlighted by the legacy of that home run.