Martinez remembers baseball’s return after Sept. 11 attacks

It’s a tough day for all Americans today. The 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., brings a lot of emotions to all who remember that tragic day for our nation.

Like many of us, Nationals manager Davey Martinez remembers exactly where he was and what he was doing on that fateful morning.

“Yeah, you know, it was a day no one will ever forget, obviously,” Martinez said while getting visibly emotional during his pregame Zoom session with reporters. “I was actually flying back. We had an off-day, I was flying back to spend some time with my family. I was flying back to Atlanta to meet the team. I dropped my kids off at school. I was at the airport, and the guy on the radio kept cutting in and he started hooting and raving about a plane that struck one of the towers. So you assumed that it was a small plane because that’s happened before. But it’s still something.

“As we started driving, they said it was a jet plane and then we heard rumors that they shut the Tampa airport down. So then at that point, I thought something happened. So I turned around, went back home, turned the TV on. As I turned the TV on in that moment, the second plane hit the second tower. And that’s when I realized something really bad is going on. So, like I said, it was a sad day. I mean, it really was.”

Thumbnail image for Martinez-Serious-Hoodie-WS-G4-Sidebar.jpgMartinez, then 36 years old and playing in the final major league season of his career with the Braves, spent the next week not playing baseball as the sport, like much of the country, had been shut down. Games wouldn’t continue until the following Monday, Sept. 17.

The Braves were in the middle of a long road trip that started all the way back on Sept. 3 in Montreal. After baseball resumed, Martinez and his teammates picked up again in Philadelphia for four games before making their way up to New York to face the Mets for the first game played in the city since the attacks.

It’s a memory Martinez will never forget and an honor he will always cherish.

“We go back and I was part of that first game back in New York, a place where I grew up,” the Brooklyn native said. “And it was tough. It was tough playing that day. I can remember, talking earlier about it, we had this slogan back then. We had all these T-shirts made about ‘United we stand.’ We’re gonna get through this together, everybody, and we’re gonna stay strong. And that’s the thing that I remember most about that game is how everybody was pulling for everybody. I remember going to go and shake the Mets’ hands, the players. Everybody, we were together before the game. Shaking a bunch of (hands of) firefighters, police officers that were at the game. So it was something that I had to tell myself, ‘Hey, stay strong. We’re gonna get through this. We got to do it together.’”

That game is famous not only for baseball’s return to New York and as a symbol of unity for the country, but also the late go-ahead two-run home run by Mets great Mike Piazza to give the home team a 3-2 win over Martinez’s Braves.

Martinez, who had entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the eighth and remained in the game at first base, admits that was one opposing home run he didn’t mind seeing leave the yard.

“Honestly, it wasn’t, for me, about winning or losing the game,” Martinez said. “When he hit the ball, I can honestly tell you that I was like, inside, I was saying, ‘Go, go, go.’ You want to see the ball go out of the stadium. And on one hand, I don’t like losing games, but that’s one game where it didn’t really matter. And just to watch the eruption of the fans and everybody in the stadium was pretty awesome.”

Sports have a unique way of uniting us as people. It can also be used as a distraction during tragic times. As games being played across the country today, in baseball and other sports, we will remember the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001 in a variety of ways: flags, patches, decals, moments of silence, tribute videos, etc.

Of course, we will never forget. We will always remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice that day. But, especially after a difficult year, it is nice to know that we can watch a ballgame and escape those terrible memories, if only for a few hours.

As for Martinez, he extends his favorite mantra to those who live in memory of the ones who were lost on this day 20 years ago.

“So, 20 years later, here we are and I’m watching all that stuff on TV today. And what I think about is all the family members that are still with us,” Martinez said. “I want to send my deepest sympathies to all family members who lost lives (of loved ones). They got to continue to stay strong. And stay in the fight. I think that’s the one thing that I’ve learned about that with those people, is that they don’t want us to give up.”

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