I’m a northeasterner and you’ll have to excuse my indulgence on this day, September 11th.

Oddly, each year becomes even more difficult than the last. Perhaps because I grow older, but perhaps because history comes into focus with time. This morning, I sat with a cup of coffee at 7:30 a.m. EST and let the morning soak in. I kept looking at the time waiting for the moment I relive in my mind each year on 9/11. Many of my friends and family do the same.

As I was pounding out a series of tweets I heard screams from the other room and I immediately knew what it was: my wife watching news clips of that day. I went over and showed her the tweet from NBC Sports Chicago of Sammy Sosa charging into the outfield at Wrigley with Old Glory flapping above his head. We both had tears in our eyes.

I don’t want to discount anyone else’s 9/11 experience — Lord knows the tragedy rocked an entire nation — but living in New Jersey with family in the New York City area, we have a different connection to that day. One where I could look to the person next to me and gravely ask the question, “do you have family in New York today?”

While the towers fell the Pentagon was under attack. Reports of another hijacked plane heading towards the White House flickered across the screen and I can remember hearing scrambling F-16s crisscrossing the clear sky. Living in the Philadelphia suburbs you didn’t know what was coming next. I was paralyzed.

View looking south past the Empire State Building towards southern Manhattan. (photo credit: AP/Marty Lederhandler)

I was a senior in high school and I had a free period after 9 a.m. where I could leave school. I went home and stood in front of the T.V. watching the North tower burn when a low flying airliner flew across the screen and nailed the south tower spewing a cloud of fire and debris into the New York sky.

The anchors on CNN were speechless. No one Knew what to say. Even 90 miles away I had no cell service. My uncle worked in the city at that time and he was able to catch the last ferry out of New York before all bridges and tunnels were closed.

Before I left to go back to school I watched the towers crumble into themselves — folded like an accordion. Like many other classrooms around the country, we sat transfixed to a T.V. screen for the last hour of school. As an ignorant teenager singularly concerned with my universe, I did not know who Osama Bin Laden was until that day. His foot soldiers had reduced a nearby city into a war zone with people scurrying for cover.

The images blasted into our collective consciousness reminds me of central Bagdad, not NYC. Concrete dust pulverized and burned by the incendiary jet fuel used to thrust a spear into the heart of America.

In this Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 file photo, Julie McDermott, center, is helped by others as they make their way through the debris near the World Trade Center in New York. (AP Photo/Gulnara Samoilova)

I ended up marrying someone with deep NYPD and NYFD roots and playing college baseball with a congress of teammates from the NYC suburbs. My wife’s father worked for Marsh & McLennon at that time. The company’s home office was in the WTC and they lost 300 employees that day. Another firm a few floors north lost more.

But my eventual father-in-law was delayed in the Lincoln Tunnel on that particular morning. Her mother frantically picked up neighbor’s kids from school as mothers desperately tried to connect with spouses who worked in the surrounding buildings. Everything was shut down as if the pendulum had reached peak swing.

The search and rescue operations took months at Ground Zero. My in-laws were on the pile extracting bodies while inhaling the toxic dust that has left first responders sick and dying over the past 18 years. Newark airport was always a landmark for me and my siblings when we would travel up the Jersey Turnpike as children. That fall, the turnpike had turned into a parade route for fire and rescue trucks sent from far and wide to assist in the rescue efforts.

New York police officers on motorcycles escort emergency vehicles transporting the unidentified remains of victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks onto the World Trade Center site, where they will be kept at the 9-11 Museum on May 10, 2014 in New York City. The decision by city officials to keep the remains at the museum until they are able to be identified has drawn both support and criticism by families of victims. A protest was held by a small group of people in protest to the decision as the remains were moved early this morning.
(May 9, 2014 – Source: Andrew Burton/Getty Images North America)

The Chicago White Sox happened to arrive in Manhattan late the night before and many of the players rested while the world changed in those early morning hours.

Paul Konerko remembered this sight in 2011:

“I remember it just being a nice day, as far as the weather and it was beautiful out, and seeing millions of people walking the streets, all with the same thought in mind, which was kind of an odd thing.”

Baseball was postponed for seven days, the season halted while the focus narrowed on southern Manhattan and the rescue effort. But when the season resumed, somehow I had tickets to the Phillies game as “USA” chants echoed through the stadium. And on May 2, 2011, I was in the stands as alerts spread through the congregation and Dan Baker announced the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. Again, the chants rang out.

And no one will ever forget President George W. Bush delivering a bullet to Yankees’ catcher Todd Greene to open game one of the World Series.

My love affair with baseball and the arcane traditions it likes to venerate are no secret. I joke about loathing bat flips, but like most people with sound emotional intelligence, I secretly enjoy them. But the symbolism of certain traditions has a way of finding renewed relevance. After all, baseball boasts the human element of the game the same as art taps into the human condition. We cannot drain this from the life of the game.

I don’t claim to have ownership over the feeling I get on this day every year. I suppose I’m just taking advantage of my platform. In a vain way, all of us find a measure of catharsis by sharing our experience in those moments. It’s important to find the time to do so on this day.

Before we were sent home from school on September 11, 2001, after the announcement had been made that all after-school activities were canceled and the world stopped spinning, we had an assembly. Seven hundred students packed the auditorium in silence.

I was taken aside while my peers were herded into the auditorium. My band director Mr. Myers asked me to play taps with him at the end of the assembly. I took my trumpet out of its case as if it were a rifle, placed the mouthpiece into the skinny mouthpipe and rolled my fingers over the valves. I tuned up and marched into one of the darkened stairwells across from Mr. Myers.

He called out with the first few solemn notes and I answered that call.


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Never Forget.

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