Don’t Bounce It


As the season winds down, we are reminded baseball, life, and the world stage are sometimes intertwined.

The St. Croix Valley and U.S. of A. are far different places today than on September 10, 2001, the day before hijacked planes hit and destroyed the World Trade Center, severely damaged the Pentagon, and augered into a hemlock grove in rural Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

The Shanksville site became a national memorial, and an inscription etched in glass at an observation deck reads, “A common field one day. A field of honor forever.” It served as the memorial’s mission statement during early planning stages and came from Stephan Ruda, a member of the Los Angeles Fire Department. Shortly after the attacks, Ruda wrote the message on his handmade quilt and sent it the Shanksville scene.

What about another common field? Baseball. Played on a field. America’s pastime. Following the terrorist attacks, Major League Baseball immediately canceled its games on September 11th, a Tuesday, and later, canceled all games for the rest of the week. They resumed on the following Monday and still played out a full, 162 game schedule.

New York is the world’s greatest city and has its Mets and Yankees. Both are bound by post-9/11 stories. On September 21st, the Mets were at home for the first time since 9/11 and played the Atlanta Braves, a big rival. Before the first pitch, players and coaches from both teams met on the field and hugged one another. Liza Minnelli brought the stadium down with a five-plus minute version of New York, New York during the seventh inning stretch. Trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the 8th inning, the Mets Mike Piazza hit a two-run homer for a lead they’d keep. The crowd of over 41,000, including almost 10,000 walk-ups who bought tickets at the gate, burst into cheers of USA! USA! NYC finally had something to feel good about. Did Hollywood write the script?

Meanwhile, the Yankees won the east division and played the Oakland A’s, baseball’s wild card playoff team. They lost the first two home games. Prior to the start of game two, President George W. Bush told a somber nation that U.S. military forces had attacked the Taliban in a far-away place called Afghanistan.

The Yankees earned a spot in the World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The D-Backs were winners of the first two games in Arizona, and the Yanks looked forward to a New York crowd. President Bush resisted suggestions to throw out a ceremonial first pitch in Arizona. He’d do it in New York in game three. Security was tight. An armed secret service agent wore an umpire’s uniform to be on the field. President Bush took his throwing obligations seriously and warmed up in the bowels of the stadium. Derek Jeter, the Yankees’ captain, offered him advice. “Better throw it from the mound and not in front of it.” And more famously, “Don’t bounce it, they’ll boo ya.” Well, the President, sporting a bullet-proof vest under his jacket, delivered a strike from the mound. The crowd erupted. USA! USA! An outfield sign put it in perspective, U.S.A. Fears NobodyPlay Ball.

Alas, the Yankees lost the Series to the D-Backs. But in the fall of 2001, New Yorkers showed the world they could pull themselves together and resume normal life which included baseball, on a common field.

St. Croix Valley residents are high achievers. When given a task, they’ll throw from the mound, and won’t bounce it, either.