Henne: Baseball is America’s great unifying source

Luke Henne / Sports Editor | Citi Field - filled to capacity on Sept. 11 - was the backdrop for a game between the New York Yankees and New York Mets. On that night, however, fans gathered to celebrate something bigger than baseball.

Luke Henne | Sports Editor

Sept. 16, 2021

I’ve been to nearly 400 Major League Baseball games in my life, and I knew from the outset that the one I attended this past Saturday would top them all.

On Sept. 11, the New York Yankees and New York Mets squared off in the second of a three-game series in the Queens borough of New York. More importantly, the city’s premier baseball teams were meeting on what was the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that left a permanent wound not only in the fabric of the city, but on the entire United States.

As the pregame festivities and tributes ensued, there were no chants intended to degrade one team or favor another. All that could be heard in Citi Field included frequent “USA! USA!” chants and a harmonious rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

I watched grown adults – fans of both teams – sobbing as the scoreboard showed a replay of former Mets catcher Mike Piazza’s game-winning home run in the first baseball game played in the city following the attacks.

As someone from Pittsburgh, I will probably never understand the significance of Piazza’s home run and that game to natives of the city.

However, in my time around baseball, I’ve come to learn that the sport almost always finds a way to unite individuals rather than divide them. Saturday night only reaffirmed this belief.

I did not hear one ounce of discussion about the issues that existed in society outside the confines of Citi Field. Rather, I saw fans of opposing teams locking arms, waving American flags and absorbing the memory being created in front of their eyes.

With the Yankees and Mets both making a late-season push for a playoff berth, it felt like many in attendance were indifferent to what the game’s outcome – an 8-7 Yankees victory – would eventually be.

As long as the game was played, the night could be deemed a victory.

A similar tribute was held here in Pittsburgh prior to Saturday’s contest between the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. Victims of the tragedies that also occurred 20 years prior at The Pentagon in Washington and in a field in Shanksville, Pa., were remembered.

Kudos to the MLB for scheduling these sets of teams to play one another during what was an emotional weekend throughout the entire nation.

By doing so, they could show that these games were about more than just box scores. These games were meant to serve as a symbol of how baseball brings this country together.

Baseball has always been there when this country desperately needed it.

During World War II, icons like Boston Red Sox outfielder Ted Williams and Cleveland Indians pitcher Bob Feller left the sport they loved in order to help serve the the country they loved.

In 2020, after American society had been drastically impacted by both the Covid-19 pandemic and racial turmoil, baseball was the first sport to return to competition.

Players used their platforms to help in the fight against both of these issues during a time where attention and affection were so desperately needed.

When society comes calling, baseball has and will always be there to answer the call.

If I didn’t already know that before, Saturday’s trip to New York made it abundantly clear.