By Melissa Murphy – AP Sports Writer
A new exhibit at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum highlights the impact of sports after the 2001 attacks, including the Mets’ win in New York’s first major sporting event after 9/11.
“Comeback Season: Sports After 9/11” explores how sports helped unite the country and features interviews with athletes such as Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza.
“In that first game back, the home team came back and won,” said Piazza, whose two-run homer for the Mets in the eighth inning on Sept. 21, 2001, lifted the team past Atlanta. “That’s exactly the lesson the city, the country and the world needed to see that night.”
Carol Gies attended that game with her three sons and celebrated the moment in the stands. Her firefighter husband, Lt. Ronnie Gies, died in the attacks on the World Trade Center.
“When that ball went over the wall, I saw my children smile for the very first time since they lost their dad,” she said in an oral history recording.
The exhibit covers various sports, including football, hockey, basketball, soccer, NASCAR, the New York City Marathon and the 2002 Winter Olympics. The story is told in nine chapters, using archival sports footage and testimonies from athletes, coaches and 9/11 families.
It opens with the U.S. Open final of Venus vs. Serena Williams on the weekend before the attacks. It moves through the cancellation of events, including the first stoppage of Major League Baseball since the death of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1945.
The Mets’ and Giants’ stadiums were used as recovery and supply sites after the attacks. Piazza’s jersey, his batting helmet with “NYPD” taped on the back and John Franco’s FDNY hat are on display.
So is Pat Tillman’s Army Ranger uniform, on loan from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Tillman, an Arizona Cardinal player, enlisted after 9/11 and died in Afghanistan.
New York Rangers Mike Richter, Eric Lindros and Mark Messier are pictured during a visit to thank rescue workers at ground zero on Sept. 16.
There’s a quote from Mets manager Bobby Valentine: “When we went down there the first time, you could still smell it. You could still feel it. You could see the filth on the faces of the workers. When they saw us, their faces lit up. You could see their teeth through their black masks.”
A letter from 10-year-old Brielle Saracini to Derek Jeter dated Sept. 14 is on display. She explains to her favorite player that her father, Victor Saracini, was a pilot of hijacked Flight 175 that crashed into the south tower. Soon after, Jeter called to invite Brielle, her sister and mother to a game.
In the World Series, the Yankees hosted the Arizona Diamondbacks among heightened security for Games 3, 4, 5 at Yankee Stadium, just 14 miles from ground zero. Video shows Jeter hitting a walk-off home run in Game 4 and jumping into the arms of teammates at home plate.
Michael Jordan is pictured with members of the military before a Washington Wizards vs. Knicks game at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 30. Jordan had pledged his entire year’s salary to the 9/11 relief effort.
“Through the lens of sports, this exhibition celebrates the strength of the human spirit and our capacity to come together and support one another through unimaginable grief,” 9/11 Memorial & Museum President Alice M. Greenwald said. “This story provides additional points of entry into the complex story of 9/11 to better understand our history and the impact it had on our world today, to reflect on our own lived memories from that time and to feel inspired by stories about the best of humanity.”
The exhibit was sponsored in part through the support of the Anheuser-Busch Foundation, MLB, the New York Mets and their chief operating officer, Jeff Wilpon. It runs through the summer of 2019.
For more information about the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, please visit 911memorial.org.