Mike Piazza left his apartment in lower Manhattan earlier than
usual. Police were checking cars at the bridges and tunnels for
terrorists and explosives, and Piazza didn't know how long his
trip to Shea Stadium would take. It was the afternoon of Friday,
Sept. 21. That night Piazza's Mets would be playing the first big
league baseball game in New York City since the terrorist attacks
10 days earlier. When Piazza moved into his apartment, at the
start of the season, he had been able to see the towers of the
World Trade Center from his south-facing windows. Now he could
A few blocks south of Piazza's apartment, a stream of
well-wishers stopped by a redbrick relic of a firehouse, Ladder
3, on East 13th Street. The visitors carried votive candles,
handwritten prayers and boxes of candy. None of the firehouse
regulars were there to receive them. Twelve Ladder 3 firemen
perished on Sept. 11. The 15 who did not were heading to Long
Island for the wake of one of their fallen brothers. A
firehouse, a good one, is a team.
Shortly after 7 p.m., as the wake for firefighter Joe Maloney
was beginning on Long Island, Diana Ross was singing God Bless
America at Shea, backed by 40,000 voices. Piazza, the most stoic
of men, wept. The Mets were playing the Atlanta Braves, and a
pennant hung in the balance. People were getting on with their
Maloney was a Mets fan, following the rooting path cleared by
his two kids. At Ladder 3, everyone was either a Mets fan or a
Yankees fan. In New York's firehouses baseball--slow enough to
fill the long, quiet nights--is still the national pastime, and
softball is played for keeps. Everyone at Ladder 3 either played
for the company softball team or rooted for it. Playing ball and
fighting fires, there's a link there, has been forever. What do
you want to be when you grow up? A ballplayer. A fireman. Those
two jobs, changed world and all, still fill a million childhood
December 24, 2001
Near the end of the wake, some of the men slipped out and went to
a nearby bar to catch the final innings of the Mets game on TV.
They toasted Joe Maloney and his 14 years at Ladder 3 while
Atlanta took a 2-1 lead in the eighth. Then Mike Piazza of lower
Manhattan smoked a two-run home run in the bottom of the inning,
and the home team won 3-2. New York won. Those three words never
sounded so good.
Nancy Carroll wanted to make it to Maloney's funeral. She and
Joe's wife, Kathy, are close. The two women had sat together at
firehouse picnics for years. Nancy, however, couldn't go. Her
husband, Mike, had spent 15 years, his whole career, at Ladder
3. He was at the center of Ladder 3 life, the shortstop on the
softball team, the captain's right-hand man at fires. The men of
Ladder 3 were his brothers. They ate together, they watched TV
together, they knew one another's secrets. She wasn't ready to
see them. She wasn't ready to face the memories.
Kathy Maloney at least had a body to bury. Nancy Carroll didn't
have that. Day after day she continued to hope her husband would
be recovered, but the days turned into weeks, and bodies weren't
being found. Finally she consented to a service. Mike Carroll's
memorial Mass was held on Saturday, Oct. 20, at St. Ignatius
Loyola, an ornate Catholic church on Park Avenue several long
blocks from Yorkville, the old working-class neighborhood on
Manhattan's Upper East Side where Carrolls have lived for
generations. The church, the same one where the funeral of
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis took place, in 1994, was packed.
Nancy had tried to attend Jackie's Mass, but she had turned back
when her infant son, Brendan, spat up his breakfast on her blouse.
At her husband's funeral, each mourner was handed a laminated
Mass card, about the size of a Topps card. On one side was a
photo of Firefighter Michael T. Carroll, wearing his helmet. In
the picture he looks young, alert, fit, mischievous. He was 39
when he died. On the other side of the card, where his career
stats could have been, was an old Irish blessing.
May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sunshine warm your face, the rain fall soft upon your
And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His
On the pulpit was a flower arrangement in which bright blossoms
formed an overlapping N and Y, just as the letters do on the
caps worn by the Mets, who were Mike's team, and the Yankees,
who are Brendan's. Mike's body was represented by a helmet--a
surrogate helmet, since his was never found. At the start of the
Mass, a Ladder 3 fireman, Pat Murphy, one of Mike's softball
teammates, carried the helmet down the center aisle with
slightly extended arms, as if it were a crown. Near the end of
the service Mike's brother, Bill, four years older, delivered a
eulogy. In the Irish tradition, he began with a story.
"When Mike was a small kid, and I do mean small, the time came
for him to play Little League. So Dad brought him down to the
field under the 59th Street bridge. You had to see him in his
uniform. When he came to the plate, he looked like a batting
helmet with feet. As the pitcher rocketed fastballs by him, he
just stood there, frozen. Because of his tiny strike zone, Mike
was usually guaranteed a walk.
"Two or three games had gone by, and Mike hadn't taken the bat
off his shoulder. This was just fine with the coach because it
was like having an instant base runner every time Mike got up--a
walk's as good as a hit and all that. But things weren't sitting
right with Dad. He had brought his boy down to play ball, and
that's what Mike was going to do. This one time, Mike was getting
ready for his at bat when he looked up, and there's Dad looking
back at him. In his sternest voice Dad said, 'Swing the bat.'
That's all Mike needed to hear. He was never afraid to swing the
Bill's eulogy for his brother was a eulogy for an athlete, a
firefighter and the mainstay of his family's life. When Bill
finished, more than 1,500 mourners--firemen in their dress blues
and old ladies in their London Fogs and city officials in their
suits and clergymen in their robes--stood and applauded. Bill's
last sentence was delivered straight through his grief:
"Godspeed, my brother, my friend, my hero." Any of the Ladder 3
men could have said exactly the same thing.
You could print out a list with the name of every firefighter in
New York City--the 11,500 men and women on the job today, the 343
men who died on Sept. 11--throw a dart at random and find an
athlete. When you read the obituaries of the fallen firemen, you
see that sport imbued their lives. They'd been high school
wrestlers and triple jumpers; they'd played minor league baseball
and semipro football; they were weightlifters and boxers. Like
most New York firefighters, they worked two 24-hour shifts every
eight days. They had, some of them, the luxury of time. They
volunteered as coaches and trainers. They were fans.
The physical test to become a firefighter is grueling. The
candidate lugs hoses, raises ladders, carries heavy dummies,
climbs walls and stairs, pushes weighted tires, runs and, near
the end, when his legs feel like Jell-O and he can take no more,
he slinks through a long, dark, narrow, twisting tunnel designed
to push him to the outer limits of frustration. All the while
he's competing against the clock and against every other
candidate. If he's not fit, if he's not strong, he has no
chance. In 1983, the year Mike Carroll endured the test, three
people died taking it.
Every New York City firehouse either has a softball team or joins
another house to create one, and the teams play in a crazy maze
of fire department leagues and divisions, harder to understand
than the city's subway system. Ultimately each of the five New
York boroughs determines a champion, and the borough winners join
three wild-card teams in a tournament to crown the city champ. A
few firehouses, mostly in Brooklyn, are softball dynasties that
maintain their winning traditions by pulling strings and
recruiting new softball talent as it enters the department.
In winter, fire department basketball leagues flourish. So do
hockey leagues. Nearly every firehouse has a basketball hoop and
a weight room. There are clubs or leagues for bowling, boxing,
cycling, darts, golf, rugby, running, shooting and soccer, among
other sports. Large numbers of New York firefighters compete
biennially in the national Firefighters Olympics.
There's an all-city fire department baseball team. There's also
an all-city fire department football team. That team was
decimated. Seven of its players and 14 of its alumni were killed
on Sept. 11, including Danny Suhr of Engine 216 in Brooklyn. He
was 37 years old, 5'11", 250 pounds, a box of a man, a
linebacker. He died when a person fell--or jumped--from a tower
and landed on him. Neither survived. The fire department's
beloved chaplain, Father Mychal Judge, was killed just after
reading Suhr his last rites amid falling debris. "Danny was the
first to rush the quarterback," says his old coach, Pudgie
Walsh, himself a retired fireman, "and the first to rush the
In the aftermath of Sept. 11 the fire department's athletic life
has been all but suspended. The firemen didn't have their annual
boxing match against the New York Police Department in September.
The hockey and basketball leagues are idle. Nobody feels much
When the siren sounds, a firefighter gets a rush of adrenaline,
as any athlete does. The "job"--the fire in progress--is an
event. Spectators gather, and those who know something about
firefighting (or think they do) loudly critique the firemen's
work, second-guess it, make the officers crazy. Photographers
come out. The firefighters work out of a playbook, the manual
each of them gets as a probie, or rookie. As in football,
everyone has an assignment.
At every job there's usually a big guy, what New York firemen
call "a monsta," who works the roof and cuts a hole in it to let
smoke escape. Another behemoth knocks down the front door.
Meanwhile, a little guy crawls down the hallway, on his stomach,
to the baby's room and emerges cradling the shrieking infant like
a football. There are different body types for different roles.
"You're using every God-given thing you have," says Pat Murphy,
who was broken in as a probie by Mike Carroll. "You use your
head, your legs, your back, your eyes, your ears."
Murphy is a second-generation fireman. He learned from the best:
Mike Carroll. In firefighting, though, teaching goes only so far.
"For the most part it's hands-on training," Carroll once told
Interview magazine. "Sometimes you get disoriented--that's a very
scary feeling. To find the source of the flames you go by the
heat sensation in your ears. When you feel that tingling
sensation, you know you're getting closer."
During a fire the concept of teamwork takes on new meaning.
Everyone must execute. Don't execute correctly, and you're
putting your brothers (and sisters) in jeopardy. Don't execute
correctly, and people may die.
The most spectacular fires, for good or for bad, make the news.
There may be a hero, or not. Score is kept in lives saved and
lost. It is not, it never has been, a game, not to the pros. At
the end of the day the firefighters, happy to be alive, go out
for beers before heading home to nurse their injuries and aches.
Ladder 3 was known for its athletes and its teams. Mike Moran
played football with Danny Suhr. (Moran survived the Sept. 11
attacks; his brother, John, a battalion chief, did not.) Patty
Brown, the Ladder 3 captain who died at the World Trade Center,
was a marathon runner, a boxer, a black belt in karate, a student
of yoga. Mike Carroll was a softball player. In parks up and down
the East Side of Manhattan and on the fenceless ball fields of
Central Park, you hear stories about little Mike Carroll--he was
5'9" and 160 pounds--and how he played the game.
Mike's father, Bill Carroll, was the first athlete in the
family. He played stickball. That was the game in Yorkville when
he was growing up in the 1930s and '40s. The games were played
in the street, and any batted ball caught was an out, no matter
what it bounced off. Old-timers say Bill Carroll could hit for
power and could figure out every carom. As kids he and his
buddies played for bragging rights. When they got older, they
played for beer. Losers bought at the winners' bar. Every street
had its own team and bar. Bill played for 82nd Street. His bar
Mike and Bill Jr. grew up hearing about their father's stickball
prowess, hearing stories about his two-sewer shots, stories of
balls ricocheting off fire escapes in bizarre ways and directly
into his burly hands. As boys in the mid- and late 1960s, Mike
and Bill Jr. lived with their sisters, Nancy and Eileen, and
their parents in a two-bedroom railroad flat at 84th Street and
York Avenue, an apartment just long enough for Mike to practice
sliding across its wooden floors.
By the time the Mets won their first World Series, in 1969, the
six Carrolls had moved to a modern three-bedroom apartment on
First Avenue, near 85th Street, where Bill Sr. and his wife,
Jean, live today. After October '69, Mike had a team for life,
the Amazin's, and a role model, Bud Harrelson, the slight New
York shortstop who backed away from no ball and no man. Mike,
however, could do another thing: Like his father, he could hit.
By the late 1970s and the early '80s, when Mike was at La Salle
Academy in lower Manhattan and then Manhattan College in the
Bronx, softball had replaced stickball as the city game. School
sports--overly supervised, overly structured--didn't interest him,
but playing for the bar down the street, playing for free beer
and neighborhood honor, that made all the sense in the world. The
problem was, there were so many bars down the street, and they
all wanted Mike's bat and glove. Some summers he would play for
three or four teams in different leagues. He would play
fast-pitch in Central Park, modified arc under the 59th Street
bridge, high arc on Randall's Island.
Firefighting runs in some families the way beautiful voices run
in others, and so it is with the Carrolls. Bill Sr. became a
fireman in 1954 and retired in '76, having spent all his 22
firefighting years at Ladder 3. He had a second job as a union
steamfitter. He worked sometimes at the World Trade Center,
installing sprinkler systems in the towers. He remembers once
looking out a window and seeing a plane flying beneath him.
Bill Jr. joined the fire department in 1981 and retired after 20
years, at age 42, as a captain. Twenty years is a magic number
for New York firefighters, because when they reach that point,
they can retire and receive half their final salary for the rest
of their lives as their pension.
Mike was bound to join the FDNY too. After he graduated from
college, in 1984, he held an office job, but he knew the
coat-and-tie world was not for him, even without his brother's
constant gloating about his firefighting job. Mike had taken the
physical test for FDNY applicants, with more than 30,000 others,
and finished among the top 600. You're hired by your ranking. In
'86 Mike's number came up. His father and brother made a few
calls and got him into Ladder 3.
Firefighters save their work gear the way ballplayers, in the
flannel-uniform era, saved their gloves and jerseys and
cleats--as sacred articles and proof of where they'd been. The
other day Bill Jr. retrieved his father's old leather helmet
from a crowded shelf in a bedroom now used for storage in his
parents' apartment. Nobody had touched the helmet in years.
Inside he found a handwritten note: "This helmet goes to
Michael, he was always my favorite anyhow." Bill recognized the
penmanship at once. It didn't even look like his father's. No,
such a plot could have been hatched by only one person: brother
Mike. "He looked like an altar boy," Bill Jr. said. He was
laughing. "But I'm telling ya...."
Ladder 3 was too small to field its own softball team, and so was
Engine 5, on East 14th Street, so the two houses joined to make a
squad. Its player-coach was a wiry and intense Staten Islander
named Ed Bergen, an Engine 5 fireman. It seems that every
softball team has one guy who's ready to heave the dugout bench
if an umpire misses a first-inning call. On the Engine 5-Ladder 3
team Bergen was that guy.
Bergen recalls getting a phone call one day in 1986. "You lucked
out," said the caller, a fireman named Dennis Taffe, a well-known
New York softball player whom serious softball people call "a
maniac" and "a psycho," signals of their abiding respect. "You
just got this kid, Mike Carroll. He's going to his father's old
house. I've played against him all over the city. He can play."
After their first practice together Bergen knew how correct Taffe
was. "Let's say you're starting a softball team," says Bergen,
who retired from the fire department as a lieutenant on Sept. 10.
"You can pick anybody in the world. Most guys are going to pick
Derek Jeter. My first pick is Taffe. Best softball player I've
ever seen. I'd put him in center. My second pick is Mike, second
best I've ever seen. Now I got my shortstop, so what do I need
When Bergen describes Mike's skills, he uses the present tense:
"Bats right, throws right. Always shows up, unless something's up
with his kids. Hits over .400 every year. Turns singles into
doubles. Selfless. Gives you a ground ball or a sac fly when you
need it. Turns double plays like Jeter. Vicious between the
In 1989 and '97, with Mike at shortstop and batting second, the
Engine 5-Ladder 3 team won the Manhattan championship but lost in
the all-city playoffs, defeated in '89 by a team that recruited.
The losers did not. Among the Engine 5-Ladder 3 players there was
some grumbling. Mike would hear none of it. He was relentlessly
upbeat. "Next year," he'd say, "we beat 'em."
The surviving men of Ladder 3 say the camaraderie of the softball
team carried over to their work, made them better firefighters.
As players and as firemen, they knew one another's moves,
strengths, limitations, fears. They knew how to work together.
They looked out for one another.
"One year, right after the St. Patrick's Day Parade, this guy
from the Bronx is talking down a member of our house," says
Gerard Brenkert, a Ladder 3 fireman and softball player. He and
several of Mike's friends are at an Irish bar, Fiona's, in
Yorkville, telling Mike Carroll stories; Mike's two-day wake was
not nearly long enough. "The Bronx guys have this attitude like
they invented firefighting," Brenkert continues. "This guy's
going on and on, and now he calls one of our new guys a 'bag of
s---.' Now Mike's really mad. Guy's got four inches and 50
pounds on him. Mike doesn't care. He's going to defend the
reputations of our guys. He says to me, 'Watch my back.' He
throws a right, hits the guy square in the mouth. Drops him with
The usual order in these things is words, quick right, brawl.
This time the Bronx guys stayed on their bench. They knew you
underestimated Mike Carroll at your own peril. He was powerful.
He awed his Ladder 3 buddies by bench-pressing 260 pounds, more
than 1 1/2 times his weight, in the firehouse's decrepit weight
room. That's on the order of what a very strong ballplayer--a
Mike Piazza, for instance--can do.
The firehouse and the clubhouse have much in common, with their
lockers and trays of food and television sets tuned to ESPN and
photos on the walls depicting stars of previous eras. Posted in
the Ladder 3 firehouse is a saying that you see in some big
league clubhouses: "What you see here, what you say here, what
you hear here, when you leave here, let it stay here." There are
long, bountiful meals--pasta more often than not--at which one
guy does the cooking, another the serving, another the cleaning.
In the best houses the feeling of unity is intense. One night in
October, at a benefit concert at Madison Square Garden, Mike
Moran, the football player, took to the stage and said on
national TV, "On behalf of my brother John and the 12 members of
Ladder 3 that we lost: Osama bin Laden, you can kiss my royal
Irish ass!" Back at the house, everyone howled.
In quiet times a firehouse is a place of games. At Ladder 3,
Mike played Foosball for hours at a time and eternal games of
H-O-R-S-E on a basket with a net black from diesel fumes. He
helped organize the annual Ladder 3 baseball bus trip, most
happily in 1998 to watch his Mets play the Red Sox at Fenway
Park. He played pranks on the probies and the lieutenants and
everybody in between.
Patty Brown became the captain at Ladder 3 in 2000. He was a
fire department legend: a man-about-town and one of the best
firefighters in the city. One night in his life is now part of
his legacy. There was a big fire in a West Side brownstone with
a massive mahogany front door. Before the responding
firefighters, Bill Carroll Jr. among them, even had a chance to
size up the situation, the front door popped open from the
inside. Out walked Patty Brown, wearing a suit and a tie, with
an elderly man, unharmed, draped over his shoulder. Brown
happened to have been down the block, on a dinner date, when he
saw smoke. That was his knack, to be at the right place at the
right time, like Jeter coming up with the ball in the most
unlikely places in Yankee Stadium.
When Brown joined Ladder 3, he asked Mike Carroll to be his
"chauffeur," the person who would drive the rig to the job while
the captain sat beside him, discussing strategy. "That's like a
manager and his dugout assistant, like Joe Torre and Don Zimmer,"
says Pat Murphy. "Except the captain and his chauffeur get in the
It was clear to Murphy and everyone else in the house that Brown
had selected a chauffeur in his own image. Brown and Carroll were
cut from the same fire-resistant material. They were instinctive,
fast, smart. They were brave but never reckless. They weren't
"buffs," the department term for over-the-top firefighters. They
The north tower was the first building hit. Upon arrival Brown
and Carroll and their teammates went to the 44th floor, the
starting point for the elevators that go to the building's upper
floors. They were removing people from those elevators, many of
them badly injured, and getting them to safety.
Outside, the whole nation watched. Bill Jr. reached Mike's wife
at her home. She has caller I.D. Nancy picked up the ringing
phone and said, "He's working." There was a moment of silence.
"It's just a fire now," Bill said. "They'll put the fire out.
That's what they do."
At 10:00 a.m. Brown and his men heard the south tower collapse. A
short while later Brown sent out a Mayday, saying his building
was about to go down. That was the last word. Neither he nor any
of the men with him was heard from again.
Three months later the bodies of several Ladder 3 men were found,
deep within the rubble. Patty Brown's remains were discovered on
Wednesday, Dec. 12. Mike Carroll's body was found the next day, a
few yards from his captain's. As they had lived and worked, they
had died: side by side. For the Carrolls, the discovery brought a
measure of closure, another round of grief, another funeral to
organize, a second one, a final one.
Two days before the attacks, on Sunday, Sept. 9, at about 5 p.m.,
Nancy Carroll had taken her two kids, Brendan, now seven, and
three-year-old Olivia, down to Ladder 3 for a family outing.
Olivia sat in the driver's seat of the truck and put on the
flashing lights. Brendan slid down the fire pole. They didn't
stay long; they had school the next day. It was a brief, happy
family visit. It was the last time Mike Carroll and his wife and
children were together.
Nancy and Mike had been together, in some manner, for more than
half their lives. They began dating in high school. They were
both from Yorkville. In Nancy Fox, Mike found a girl who could
handle any grounder he threw at her. During their courtship they
played basketball anywhere, anytime, until they were drenched
They married in 1987. By the time they were a family of four they
lived in a two-bedroom rental apartment at Third Avenue and 92nd
Street, but their dream was to own a home. In the summer of 2000
they moved into a comfortable white stucco house on a quiet
street in Ridgewood, N.J., 20 miles and a world away from
Last summer Brendan played Little League and attended a baseball
camp in Ridgewood. When he received the camp's Johnny Hustle
Award for showing the most heart, his father beamed. "Mike would
ride Brendan pretty hard about what would fly and what would
not," Nancy said recently.
She was watching Game 6 of the Diamondbacks-Yankees World Series
with her mother, Grace Fox, who was visiting from 96th Street in
Yorkville. Grace is a dear friend of Jean Carroll's. At least one
of them has been with Nancy every day since Sept. 11. Mike's
sister Nancy is at the Ridgewood house almost daily too. Bill Jr.
is there three or four times a week, making the 100-mile drive
from eastern Long Island, where he lives with his wife and two
children. In Ridgewood he plays catch with Brendan and chases
Olivia, keeping the kids giggling for as long as he can.
For Nancy the pain of Sept. 11 has not abated. "I can hear Mike
talking to Brendan: 'Be attentive. Hustle. Always try. Never
walk. Never complain,'" she says. "He was always talking about
Jeter and Piazza with Brendan. He thought they carried themselves
the right way, in everything they did, good times and bad. That's
what he wanted for Brendan. That's what he was teaching him. I
just hope he gave him enough of that to last."
During the 2000 World Series--the Subway Series--there was a wall
between father and son, built with couch pillows. "It was hard
putting up with him during that," Brendan says of his dad. All
through the Series, Mike mocked his son's team. The father knew
he had it made: Either his team would win, or his son's would.
Like his father, Brendan is upbeat. While the Diamondbacks were
stomping the Bombers in Game 6 this year, Brendan said, "At least
tomorrow there'll be a Game 7!"
Before Game 6 his uncle Bill took him to a nearby batting cage.
Brendan stepped in to face six tokens' worth of 40-mph Little
League fastballs. That's a speed suitable for a well-coordinated
11-year-old. Brendan knocked out a long series of line drives and
sharp grounders. He must have batted better than .400. "I used to
bat like Derek Jeter, waving my hands way up in the air, but my
dad told me to put them low and still, like Mike Piazza," Brendan
says. "My dad was a great ballplayer. I miss him."
The next day, Nov. 4, a Sunday, the town of Ridgewood held a
memorial service for its 12 residents who died in the Sept. 11
attacks. Family members were invited to place mementos in a
communal time capsule that would then be buried. Brendan placed
his baseball card collection in the large glass vault. When the
service was over, the mourners were handed helium-filled balloons
and instructed to let them go together. Brendan watched his
balloons sail higher and higher in the cloudless sky, watched
them until he could see them no more.
Much later, far into the evening, the Yankees lost Game 7.
Because it was a school night, Brendan had gone to sleep long
before the deciding ninth inning. The following morning he woke
up, took the bad news in stride and marched himself across the
street to school.
The ballplayer could not have been kinder or gentler with the
boy. The day before Thanksgiving, Piazza took Brendan, Nancy and
Bill Jr. to lunch in Manhattan. Brendan asked a series of
Do you have a best friend on the Mets?
Who is it?
How many grand slams do you have?
Twelve, I think.
Have you ever hit for the cycle?
No. I only have four career triples. One of the times I tripled,
I also singled and doubled and just missed hitting a home run.
What's the Mets' clubhouse like?
It's a dump.
Did you know my dad and I were at the game when Roger Clemens hit
you in the head with that pitch?
I didn't. I don't remember much from that game.
We were scared.
So was I.
You were my dad's favorite player.
That's a great honor.
In September, Piazza, without any fanfare, had visited ground
zero and injured survivors at nearby hospitals. The experience
shook him. When he learned of the devastation of his local
firehouse, Ladder 3, he wanted to do something. A mutual friend
got him together with the Carrolls.
After lunch Piazza and the three Carrolls went to the batting
cages at Chelsea Piers, a vast sports complex in lower Manhattan.
Brendan stepped in the box to face Little League fastballs, and
Piazza stood beside him, giving him tips. Brendan had never had a
batting coach aside from his father. Now Mike Piazza, his
father's favorite player, was filling in for him, filling the boy
with encouragement. Brendan was not his usual self. He took some
tentative cuts and then took a pitch on his left hand, a little
He sat down on a bench for the better part of 10 minutes, his
mother on one side, Piazza on the other. At one point Brendan
buried his face in his mother's blouse. All the while Piazza did
not move. He rubbed the boy's shoulders and said, "You'll be all
right, buddy, you'll be all right."
Then Piazza came up with an idea. "You want to check out my
place?" he asked.
Brendan quickly made himself at home. He removed his sneakers and
began making hook slides into an imaginary third base on Piazza's
shiny cherry-wood floors, just as his father had done in the
Carroll family apartment more than 30 years ago. Brendan and
Piazza sat on a leather couch and played a video football game.
Piazza's plastic reins controlled the movements of the
Philadelphia Eagles. Brendan's team was the St. Louis Rams. The
Eagles were forced to punt, and the Rams blocked it and took
over. Their field position was excellent. "You're catching on
fast," Piazza said. Brendan beamed. His mother watched from a
"Mike's howling," she said. She was speaking, of course, of her
husband. "Brendan is hanging out with Mike Piazza, in Mike
Piazza's apartment, and Mike thinks it's the funniest thing in
The sun was setting through the south-facing windows. Nancy went
over to them. The November dusk, across rooftops and through
barren trees, was solemn and beautiful. The apartment was cast
in a mellow orange glow.
Nancy Carroll put her face almost up to the glass. She looked
out, first toward her husband's old firehouse and then toward the
spot where the towers of the World Trade Center had stood. In
another room her son was squealing with delight. Touchdown, Rams!
Her husband, somewhere, was howling.
What do you want to be when you grow up? A ballplayer. A
fireman. Those two jobs still fill a million childhood dreams.
Sport imbued the lives of the fallen firemen. They'd played
minor league baseball and semipro football. They were
weightlifters and boxers.
On Sept. 9 Nancy had taken the kids to Ladder 3 to see Mike.
Olivia sat in the truck. Brendan slid down the fire pole. It was
a brief, happy visit.
During a fire the concept of teamwork takes on new meaning.
Everyone must execute. Don't execute correctly, and people may
Firefighting runs in some families the way beautiful voices run
in others, and so it is with the Carrolls. Mike was bound to
join the FDNY.
By 1969 Mike had a team for life, the Mets, and a role model,
Bud Harrelson, the slight shortstop who backed away from no ball
and no man.
At the memorial service for Ridgewood's Sept. 11 victims,
Brendan placed his baseball card collection in the communal
"My husband thought Jeter and Piazza always carried themselves
the right way," Nancy says. "That's what he wanted for Brendan."