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How baseball helped return a sense of normalcy to post-9/11 America

Mike Piazza Will Cry During his Baseball Hall of Fame Speech

It's easy to remember the pain and grief inflicted upon the entire nation on Sept. 11, 2001. Painfully easy. In some cases, those feelings will never be shaken.

The attacks that rattled our nation that day stripped Americans of core qualities that we'd hardly even questioned to that point: Safety, security and peace of mind chief among them. Previously normal activities like going to work or gazing up at an airplane incited fear. The streets of Manhattan were empty, like the emotions of the tens of thousands directly affected. As hearts were heavy, the city that never sleeps was stunned to a hush.

SEE ALSO: Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Piazza elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame

What else came to a hush: Baseball, which cancelled all of its games for the first time since Franklin Delano Roosevelt died in office in 1945. No games would be played until the follow week: Monday, Sept. 17, which featured a six-game slate featuring one New York team on the road -- the Mets, who had spent the previous week in their home stadium's parking lot helping doll out food, supplies and lodging to New Yorkers in need.

Baseball's most iconic post-9/11 scene came at that very stadium 10 days after the attacks. The Mets hosted the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium on Sept. 21, in the first pro sporting event in New York City following the attacks -- which wouldn't have been played if a majority of the Braves players voted to postpone the trip.

See photos of NY teams returning to baseball after 9/11

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How baseball helped ease the pain of 9/11: Yankees, Mets support
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How baseball helped ease the pain of 9/11: Yankees, Mets support
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 15: New York Yankees' team members kneel and observe a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the World Trade Center terrorist attack before they begin practice at Yankee Stadium. (Photo by Howard Earl Simmons/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, UNITED STATES: New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza stands in at the plate during the eighth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates on 17 September, 2001, at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. All Major League Baseball players will be wearing US flags on their helmets and jerseys for the rest of the season to honor the victims of the 11 September terrorist attacks. New York defeated Pittsburgh 4-1. AFP PHOTO/David MAXWELL (Photo credit should read DAVID MAXWELL/AFP/Getty Images)
21 Sep 2001: New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine and catcher Mike Piazza applaude in honor of New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani before the Mets game against the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York . Mandatory Credit: Ezra Shaw/ALLSPORT
25 Sep 2001 : Chuck Knoblauch of the New York Yankees sits in the dugout wearing a Port Authority hat during the game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. The Devil Rays won 4-0. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: Ezra Shaw/Allsport
21 Sep 2001: All the New York Mets have an embroidered patch on their uniform with two American Flags surrounding the date 9-11-01 during the Mets game against the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York . Mandatory Credit: Ezra Shaw/ALLSPORT
CHICAGO, UNITED STATES: Members of the New York Yankees applaud as Chicago firefighters and police officers take the field prior to the Yankees game against the Chicago White Sox 18 September 2001 in Chicago. The game was the first for the two teams since Major League Baseball games were suspended for a period of mourning following the 11 September terrorist attacks. AFP PHOTO/Scott OLSON (Photo credit should read SCOTT OLSON/AFP/Getty Images)
21 Sep 2001: A gigantic American Flag is hung outside Shea Stadium as the Mets play the Atlanta Braves tonight in the first major sporting event in the New York area since the World Trade Center Disaster. Mandatory Credit: Ezra Shaw/ALLSPORT
21 Sep 2001: Mike Piazza wearing his Port Authority Police hat in honor of the victims of the World Trade Center attacks before the Mets game against the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York . Mandatory Credit: Ezra Shaw/ALLSPORT
21 Sep 2001: The Twin Towers on the scoreboard skyline will be black with a red, white and blue ribbon hanging over them at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York . Mandatory Credit: Ezra Shaw/ALLSPORT
FLUSHING, UNITED STATES: A grounds crew worker attaches a US Flag to the top of the Mets' dugout at Shea Stadium 21 September, 2001 prior to the start of the game between the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves in New York City. The World Trade Center towers in the skyline atop the scoreboard were covered with a red, white and blue ribbon in honor of the thousands of victims of the 11 September terrorist attack which destroyed the buildings. AFP PHOTO/Matt CAMPBELL (Photo credit should read MATT CAMPBELL/AFP/Getty Images)
25 Sep 2001 : Chuck Knoblauch of the New York Yankees wears a Port Authority hat and teammate Luis Sojo a hat of the NY Fire Dept. before the game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. The Devil Rays won 4-0. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: Ezra Shaw/Allsport
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: New York Mets players bow their heads during a moment of silence 21 September 2001 at Shea Stadium in New York. The New York Mets played their first home game after the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon 11 September. Rescue workers from New York City agencies were honored in a ceremony before the game against the Atanta Braves. From left are: coach John Stearns, Mike Piazza, Rey Ordonez, Glendon Rusch and Edgardo Alfonzo. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: New York Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens (R facing camera) talks with the media after only his second loss of the season against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 25 September 2001 at Yankee Stadium in New York, NY. Despite the 4-0 loss, the Yankees clinched the American League East for the fourth year in a row as a result of the Boston Red Sox's loss to the Baltimore Orioles at home. AFP PHOTO/Matt CAMPBELL (Photo credit should read MATT CAMPBELL/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 21: New York Mets' manager Bobby Valentine, wearing a New York City Police Department cap, gives a somber thumbs-up at end of game as the Mets defeated the Atlanta Braves, 3-2, at Shea Stadium. Police and Fire Department caps were worn by Valentine and the players in tribute to the officers and firefighters who perished in last week's terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, and to those who continue to work at the site as the search for the 6, 977 missing continues. The Mets donated their pay for the game to help the victims' families. (Photo by Howard Earl Simmons/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 22: Daily News back page dated Sept. 22, 2001 Headlines: STAR & STRIPES Piazza, Mets sink Braves in emotional return home Mike Piazza points skyward after eighth-inning homer rallies Mets past Braves, 3-2, on patriotic and dramatic night at Shea as baseball returns to city. Win pulls Mets within 4 1/2 games of first-place Atlanta. (Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: Groundskeepers prepare the field near a new patriotically-colored New York Yankees logo before the Yankees played the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 25 September 2001 at Yankee Stadium in The Bronx, New York, NY. The game was the first played at Yankee Stadium since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Cetner 11 September 2001. AFP PHOTO/Matt CAMPBELL (Photo credit should read MATT CAMPBELL/AFP/Getty Images)
25 Sep 2001 : Manager Joe Torre of the New York Yankees walks onto the field before the game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. The Devil Rays won 4-0. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: Ezra Shaw/Allsport
DENVER - SEPTEMBER 17: (SEPTEMBER 11 RETROSPECTIVE) Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks baseball players hold a large U.S. flag together during 'God Bless America' and the 'Star Spangled Banner' musical anthems before the start of their game at Coors Field September 17, 2001 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO - SEPTEMBER 18: A sign honoring the New York Fire Department is held by members of the San Francisco Fire Department during pregame ceremonies before the MLB game between the Houston Astros and the San Francisco Giants on September 18, 2001 at Pac Bell Park in San Francisco, California. The Astros won the first MLB game played in San Francisco after the September 11 terror attacks 3-2. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, UNITED STATES: The batting helmet of Cardinals' Mark McGwire #25(L), and all Cardinals' players have an American Flag on their batting helmets and uniform to honor those who died in the terrorist bombings in New York City and Washington, DC. The St, Louis Cardinals are taking on the Milwaukee Brewers 17 September 2001, in St. Louis ,Missouri, for the first game for both teams since baseball was suspended on 11 September 2001, due to the terrorist activities. AFP PHOTO/Scott ROVAK (Photo credit should read SCOTT ROVAK/AFP/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI - SEPTEMBER 18: Left fielder Adam Dunn #44, infielder Dmitri Young #25 and first baseman Sean Casey #21 of the Cincinnati Reds sit in the dugout with an American flag over their caps during the MLB game against the Chicago Cubs on September 18, 2001 at Cinergy Field in Cincinnati, Ohio. This was the first game played in Cincinnati following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Reds won 6-5. (Photo by Mark Lyons/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO - SEPTEMBER 18: Members of the San Francisco Giants and the Houston Astros stand on the infield for a moment of silence as the flag flies at half-mast during pregame ceremonies before the MLB game on September 18, 2001 at Pac Bell Park in San Francisco, California. The Astros won the first MLB game played in San Francisco after the September 11 terror attacks 3-2. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI - SEPTEMBER 18: Second baseman Ricky Gutierrez #12 of the Chicago Cubs stands on deck during the MLB game against the Cincinnati Reds on September 18, 2001 at Cinergy Field in Cincinnati, Ohio. This was the first game played in Cincinnati following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Reds won 6-5. (Photo by Mark Lyons/Getty Images)
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The venue housed 41,235 guests that evening -- some Mets fans, some Braves fans; some in tears, all seeking a distraction from the world outside Shea's blue walls. After the nation's colors were presented with unprecedented extravagance and Marc Anthony's national anthem elicited booming "U-S-A" chants, both teams converged inside the baselines to shake hands -- a microcosm of the American camaraderie that had swept the nation.

The game's tie score wasn't responsible for the crowd's uneasiness in the middle of the seventh inning, when Liza Minnelli belted "New York, New York" -- the anthem's generally cheerful tone had fans uncertain. But when a half-dozen representing the NYPD and FDNY took the field to sing and dance, the mood was lifted, if only for a minute.

The night's highlight, though, has gone unparalleled in pro sports since the moment Mike Piazza's bat struck Steve Karsay's fastball over the middle of home plate.

With the Mets trailing 2-1 and a man on base, New York's superstar came to bat with not just a team but a city on his broad shoulders. And with one swing of the bat, Shea Stadium's tears of distress became ones of joy. For one second, Piazza made everything okay again.


Piazza's two-run home run to give the Mets the lead in the eighth inning didn't make anybody forget about the circumstances. If they'd been forgotten, it'd have sounded like just another one of Shea's 5,791 home runs. Strangers wouldn't have hugged each other while jumping in the air. Fans wouldn't have violently waved miniature American flag sticks. Piazza wouldn't have gone back to the dugout and pulled on a catcher's mask that read "NYPD," and the Twin Towers of the Manhattan skyline replica atop right field's scoreboard wouldn't be hiding behind a red, white and blue ribbon.

But right off the bat, you didn't need to be familiar with baseball to feel the liberation deployed throughout the stadium in about a millisecond. Piazza rounding first base, with a sea of arms bouncing up and down in the stands almost too lively to remain in the backdrop, wasn't just one man turning a corner. It was a city doing the same.

And with that, baseball returned to New York. But not just as games on a schedule -- as a culture. As a normalcy, or something resembling it. Yankees fans were soon ribbing Mets fans for not making the postseason; sports radio hosts fielded questions from misguided fans suggesting ridiculous trades. You know, like usual.

The healing process after 9/11 won't ever truly be complete. Images from that day will hurt today as they hurt seeing them 14 years ago. But amid the anguish, the tears, the fear and the unknown, a grief-stricken city was guided out of its darkest days by a game -- by one game, by one home run.

- By John Dorn

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See photos of Mike Piazza throughout his HOF career

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Mike Piazza through his career
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Mike Piazza through his career
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 30: Former New York Mets Mike Piazza waves before throwing out the first pitch prior to Game Three of the 2015 World Series between the New York Mets and the Kansas City Royals at Citi Field on October 30, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
24 Jul 1993: Catcher Mike Piazza of the Los Angeles Dodgers looks on during a game against the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. Mandatory Credit: Jed Jacobsohn /Allsport
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