One September

The New York Times

September 18, 2008

by Doug Glanville


Seven years ago this week — Sept. 17, 2001, actually — my team, the Phillies, played a key game against the Atlanta Braves inside a packed Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. The electricity in the stands was stunning. The pre-game ceremony showed off one of the biggest American flags I had ever seen, and the video presentation was one of a kind.

Because the three upcoming games would most likely make or break our season, we expected the series to bring Phillies fans from far and wide to support our efforts. At this point, every game counted — we were neck and neck with the Braves for the division title with only two weeks remaining. Even under the circumstances, though, we never expected this degree of support.

But we realized that the fans came out only partly to see a playoff race.

The Phillies had the privilege of being the first team to resume play after the attacks of 9/11. As players, we felt we could do our small part to help people heal from this tragic event, even though we knew the scars would never go away.

I recorded the first hit (against Greg Maddux) after play resumed. A broken-bat bloop single to center field. Along with my 1,000th hit, which would come at the end of the 2002 season, this turned out to be the most memorable of my career.

So how did we get there?

I came out of my hotel room on the 11th fairly early, as I did every morning before a night game. Most road-tested players would be considered morning people if they woke up before noon, but I loved my breakfast and I had to be up in time to get to my favorite spots before they stopped serving French toast (usually around 10:30 a.m.).

Typically on those mornings, I made my way to the elevator through a deafening silence: the non-existent sound of a luxury hotel with only a sprinkling of guests on a conference-free, middle-of-the-week morning.

But that day was different — buzz and noise, crowds of people huddled together. I chalked it up to an unexpected convention, until the elevator doors opened. I saw Kevin Jordan, my only teammate who was an early riser for breakfast, and his wife, Nina. But before I could exchange pleasantries, Nina yelled, “They hit the towers!”

I had no idea what she was talking about.

We were in Atlanta, home of CNN, and I knew nothing of any towers in the city. So she clarified that it was the World Trade Center and all I could blurt out was, “Again?”

I grew up right over the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey, and the World Trade Center was a fixture in the skyline across the Hudson River. Even when you are six miles from the city in Jersey, in some ways you’re a New Yorker. It took Nina a while to understand that my response had to do with the 1993 van attack, something she only vaguely remembered.

In any event, the world came into focus for me like never before.

At the time, I was the Phillies’ union representative, but now my job description changed — instead of focusing on labor issues, I found myself acting as a liaison between the players’ association and the owners, trying to figure out what to do. Same as with all Americans, we were frozen in time, in our case stuck on the road far away from home, with no idea whether our loved ones were safe. No idea if our country was safe.

And we had to grapple with the decision of whether, and when, it was appropriate to resume playing baseball. Only a game separated us from the division title — it was the first time in my career that I’d been in a pennant race this late in the season — but that had no meaning any longer.

After many conference calls with baseball’s decision-makers, the immediate future was still unclear. Security was a major problem at any stadium, and many players were reluctant to stand out on a field with 50,000 spectators — a gathering that presented a potential target.

On the other hand, we felt that maybe we could be part of the healing process, giving people something to feel connected to, even for just a moment. In many ways, we needed that, too.

For a couple of days, we just walked around Atlanta like zombies. Not sure of what to do other than taking every moment to watch the latest reports of the devastation. Rumors swirled about possible attacks on Atlanta since it was home to CNN, and therefore a key United States communications city. After three days, our team took the initiative to head to Cincinnati, site of our next series; there was still no decision on whether we were going to play any games.

The airports were shut down, so we bused our way, like the old days of minor league baseball. We headed north, making one stop to eat in Tennessee. By then, I had received an urgent message that we’d likely be canceling the Cincinnati games. It was time for a team vote: Do you want to go back to Atlanta? Continue on to Cincinnati? Or go to Philadelphia? With the exception of one player (who was from Atlanta) and our manager, everyone wanted to go home to Philadelphia and be with their families.

We didn’t have a choice, as it turned out: our driver was only allowed to drive a certain distance each day. Philadelphia was too far, and it was too late to get another driver; disappointed, we headed for Cincinnati.

By then — when my cell phone had started to work — I had checked in with friends on other teams. The chaos was nationwide, of course. Players were stuck all over the country. One team just traveled aimlessly, as if hoping to teleport home by sheer will. Most just stayed where they were and prayed.

After one night in Cincinnati, some flights resumed and we were able to fly to Philadelphia. By this point, the commissioner had canceled all games for the week; we would ultimately sit out six and resume play in Philadelphia a week after the attacks.

No one had confidence that it was the right thing to do.

It was a dark moment that changed us all, and as players it brought things quickly into perspective. We were playing a game that we loved and that was our livelihood. It was a gift to be able to respond to fans who wanted us to come back and give them a temporary reprieve from the fear and the sorrow. In that first game back, the fans treated every pitch like we were playing the most important game they have ever seen. They cheered every strike and sang in total unison during the 7th inning stretch.

Many thanked us for playing that day, and their gratitude seemed to be about fulfilling a need, or maybe creating an oasis of peace and unity. Just being part of that, and tasting a moment when you find real purpose in what you do, helped us understand the power of this game.

Republished by The NY Times.


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