On this day 20-years-ago, America and the world as a whole would never be the same after the infamous 9/11 attacks.
Mets vice president of ballpark operations Sue Lucchi was at work at Shea Stadium that day when horror struck in the form of the first plane crashing into the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. And for the next 11 days, Shea Stadium pretty much became her home.
Alongside a cluster of Mets employees and volunteers, Lucchi led the movement of gathering supplies to send to Manhattan to aid rescue workers assisting with the fallout of the fallen towers.
Following this tragic event, MLB hit the pause button on the season for the next six days. On September 17, the Mets resumed play in Pittsburgh for a three-game series on the road, before returning to Shea on September 21 for their first contest at home since the dreadful attacks.
But with the first home game in New York looming, Lucchi still had her mind on what occurred 10 days prior.
“My main objective was to be in the parking lot and help to get supplies down to Ground Zero, so I don’t have any recollection of the Mets playing on the road,” Lucchi said. “I was purely zoomed in on what was happening in the parking lot and down at Ground Zero. On 9/21, our first game back, I remember meeting with my staff in the locker room and kind of giving them a pep talk because we were all kind of not understanding why we were playing baseball in a time like this. And as the guys have said over the years, we’ve learned that it was a healing process, a very small one but one that was needed.”
That night, Mike Piazza slugged a dramatic game-winning two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to lift the Mets over the Atlanta Braves, which brought the city together. This gave everyone involved a definitive answer that going back to normal everyday life was the right thing to do.
When the team returned from their road trip, they saw a different New York skyline on their bus ride back into the city.
“The sun had risen, and we were hoping that we get a glimpse of the skyline of New York City as we approach the Meadowlands and as we looked to the right on the bus and out window, there was no skyline at all,” said former Mets manager Bobby Valentine. “It was all covered with a black line of smoke. That was so indelible, that every time I’m on that highway, every time I go to a Giant game, every time I come back from Jersey, I think about that moment.”
Although the Mets wound up playing the rest of the season, their focus remained on the tragedy that took place, which is why they did more than their part to assist those who were dealing with the aftermath.
At first, the players were hesitant when asked to visit the World Trade Center, but this feeling quickly disappeared once they arrived on the scene.
“When we went down to Ground Zero, (I) wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do,” said former Mets reliever John Franco. “And to see the looks on the firemen’s faces and the rescue workers’ faces, how tired and how their faces are full of dirt, and you can see the whites of their teeth. They were very, very tired, but when they’d seen us, they were happy to see us. It made me feel that this is where we belonged at the time, just to say hello, say thank you, hand out our hats and shirts, and to see the efforts that they put in.”
Tonight, the Mets will honor the 20th anniversary of 9/11 with a pregame ceremony at Citi Field before their Subway series game with the Yankees. They will also sport first responder hats during this contest, as they did when they returned to Shea two decades ago.
Todd Zeile, the Mets former first baseman, pushed to wear these hats in 2001, despite MLB's push back.
Although the league cited the rule book by saying wearing a hat that was outside the team's normal uniform was against their policy, the players didn't care.
“It was overwhelmingly the sentiment of every guy that if they think we’re not gonna wear these hats, you can try to come down here and rip them off our head,” Zeile said. “I think something like that was quoted, but that was the way we felt and that felt like it was a connection to the guys and girls that were still out there searching for their friends and brothers and not knowing what the outcome is. We’re gonna go play a baseball game, and least we could do is feel like they’re with us in some way.”
Valentine will throw out the first pitch to former Yankees manager Joe Torre on Saturday night. A number of former Mets from the 2001 team will be in attendance, including Hall of Famer Mike Piazza.
Emotions will be undoubtedly running high today, which reminds us that 20-years later, we still haven't forgotten what took place, and never will.