The video above is from last night’s Mets-Phillies game, and was filmed moments after news began to filter out about Osama Bin Laden’s death at the hand of US forces. When I saw that clip, I instantly recalled October 2001.
It was just a few weeks after a number of deranged individuals took thousands of American lives by committing heinous acts of terror on U.S. soil. America was grieving, trying to cope and process a new world in which our safety, so long taken for granted, was suddenly in doubt. Pain, sadness, and confusion were the emotions of the day, and the country in general and New York City in particular were desperate for a catharsis, for a moment where we could stand together, link hands as Americans, and say “You can strike at us, but we will stand together and grow stronger. We are united. We are not afraid.” Somewhat surprisingly, that moment came at a World Series game in the Bronx.
Ultimately, this was a triviality. It was a bunch of people gathered in a ballpark to watch men play a children’s game, and the President happened to throw a baseball. But somehow, it represented so much more. For a few short hours, we were allowed to stop mourning and start cheering. President Bush stepped out of the Yankees dugout and onto the mound to wild cheers, threw a perfect strike, and walked off the mound as the entire ballpark chanted “USA!! USA!! USA!!” This was 56,000 emotional fans yelling on top of their lungs that, as one fan’s sign said, “USA Fears Nobody. Play Ball.” It was a moment where we could come together as Americans and tell the world that while grievously injured, we were going to pick ourselves up off the ground and continue living our lives. As President Bush said in the excellent documentary “Nine Innings From Ground Zero,” the moment said:
United we stand. We stand together in the face of this threat. We will play baseball in the midst of the beginning of this war. No matter what the threat may be to us, the United States will stand strong and never be intimidated.
Years later, that quote sounds a bit maudlin and cliched, and the juxtaposition of war to baseball seems slightly inappropriate. But I think that at that moment, on that cold October night, anyone who watched what transpired at Yankee Stadium experienced the feeling of unity and perseverance that the President refers to. In many ways, that moment represented the best that America can be, and it was appropriate that such a unifying experience happened at a sporting event.
Sports have a way of bringing us together, of cutting through party lines, racial divides, and social differences. No matter our background, no matter our differences, we tend to embrace one another as fans of our favorite team and sport. Those who have been to Yankee Stadium can certainly attest to this, as the Stadium is a melting pot of citizens from all races and religions, unified by their love of the game. What better place is there for a a moment of true unity, such as the one that occurred in October 2001, than at a baseball game?
Last night, Americans all over the country congregated to once again show unity, under entirely different circumstances. And at a baseball game in Philadelphia, in a moment of spontaneity, Americans once again joined together to salute the U.S.A. Somehow, in some small way, that feels right.