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The events of Sept. 11, 2001, brought life to a standstill as an entire nation mourned the destruction and loss of life from that day’s tragic terrorist attacks.
The sports world was no different.
Major League Baseball shut down for a week before games would eventually resume. Yet it wasn’t until the stadium lights finally came back on in New York City, where the World Trade Center’s twin towers were still smoldering, that the sport truly began the healing process.
A new documentary, premiering on MLB Network at 10 p.m. ET on Thursday, tells the story of baseball’s return to New York City, 10 days after the terrorist attacks that toppled the World Trade Center’s twin towers, when the Mets hosted the Atlanta Braves.
“MLB Network Presents: Remembering the Game for New York” recalls that night through the eyes of six players from the two teams, all with ties to the New York City area.
“This was very personal,” remembers former Mets pitcher Al Leiter, who grew up in Toms River, New Jersey.
There was plenty of pregame pageantry, with fans waving American flags and the teams lining up along the baselines as they would before playoff game. But there was also a tinge of sadness as well.
“I remember feeling guilty that I thought it was awesome, amazing. Everything about it was ‘oh my God’ … and it was all for the wrong reasons,” Leiter says. “That was the constant tug.”
Mets players took the field wearing caps with the logos of the New York City fire department, police department and first responders. And after a stirring rendition of the national anthem, players from both teams took the unusual and unscripted step of exchanging pregame handshakes and hugs.
"When that happened,” former Mets reliever John Franco recalls, “That's when we realized, hey, this is where everybody comes together."
In one of the evening’s many coincidences, Staten Island native Jason Marquis was the Braves’ starting pitcher. “I think the game represented a combination of celebration and grief,” says Marquis. “We did lose a lot but now we're sort of on the way to recovery.”
Despite all the pregame ceremonies, filled with symbolism, patriotism and optimism, there was still a game to be played.
The most striking thing about it for many of the players was just how subdued the fans were. To be fair, there wasn’t much to generate excitement.
Marquis was brilliant, allowing just one run on four hits through the first six innings. The score was tied 1-1 going into the eighth when the Brooklyn-born Franco took the mound for the Mets. He allowed a baserunner, who eventually came around to score.
But that only added to the drama. In the bottom of the eighth, star catcher Mike Piazza stepped to the plate with a runner on base. And the capacity crowd that had been silent in sadness for so long finally got its chance to erupt with joy.
Piazza’s two-run homer off Queens native Steve Karsay provided one of the most memorable moments in Mets history, proving to be the winning margin in a 3-2 victory.
"When Mike Piazza hit that home run and we saw everything that transpired," Leiter says, "I realized 100% it was the right remedy for people to start thinking forward."
Brooklyn-born Dave Martinez, now the manager of the Washington Nationals, was playing first base for the Braves that night. He and his teammates knew the game couldn’t have ended any other way.
“At one point in time I was like, ‘Go, go, go,’” Martinez says. “This is what's meant to be."
“It was the only game I ever played in my life, from the time I was like nine years old, I can remember that I didn’t mind losing,” says former Braves infielder Mark DeRosa, a native of nearby Carlstadt, New Jersey.
As commissioner Bud Selig had vowed, baseball was on its way to helping the nation heal from the pain of 9/11.
"When you saw that," Franco says, "it made you feel good because for the three hours, we put up a little band-aid on a big wound."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB Network special remembers baseball's NYC return after 9/11