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To Play or Not to Play?

Baseball: Many believe games should not be played, others say they should go on as clubs pay tribute to those who lost their lives on Sept. 11.

September 08, 2002|BEN WALKER | ASSOCIATED PRESS

John Franco stacked medical supplies and Joe McEwing drove a forklift. They worked side by side with other New York Mets wearing "FDNY" and "NYPD" caps in the parking lot at Shea Stadium, a staging area for the relief effort at ground zero.

Yet even now, a year after visiting hospitals, comforting families and tirelessly trying to help ease the city's pain, the teammates find themselves on different sides of a most difficult issue.

Should games be held on Sept. 11?

"Personally, I think we shouldn't play. I think we should pay tribute to the victims," Franco said.

"Yes," McEwing offered. "Baseball, being our pastime, it's something that should be done to take our minds off the day."

The games will go on, with all teams in action Wednesday on the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

Ultimately, Commissioner Bud Selig had to make the call. Most major leaguers agreed with the decision.

"I think it's important to play, for the same reason the president said it was important to try to get things back to normal," Selig said. "It's a sensitive question, and I can see both sides. It's very personal. There's no right or wrong.

"If fans want to come to a ballpark, gather in a public place as they did last year--like a catharsis--and sing 'God Bless America,' then they can. If they want to stay at home and have a quiet time of reflection, I completely understand that."

There will be 16 games Wednesday, including a day-night doubleheader between the Mets and Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. At every ballpark, there will be tributes to the victims and those who tried to rescue them.

Games will pause at 9:11 p.m. local time for a moment of silence, to be followed by a video presentation honoring those who died. A design featuring the words "We Shall Not Forget" will be placed on the field, outfield walls and bases--all fans will be given T-shirts with that emblem and encouraged to wear them.

Several miles from the World Trade Center site, a plaque will be hung at Monument Park at Yankee Stadium before New York plays Baltimore.

"That's the place you really want to be at that time," Oriole reliever Buddy Groom said. "The place is going to be packed, and there's going to be something special done there to honor the victims.

"I think we should play," he said. "It was a tragic thing and it affected a lot of lives and a lot of families. But this is a way that we can honor those people."

St. Louis manager Tony La Russa agreed.

"If it's a national holiday, where everything is shut down, then we shouldn't be playing. But if people are going to work, as they are, then we should do what we normally do," he said.

Last year, baseball paused for six days after the attacks. Then, awash in red, white and blue, the games returned.

Minnesota Twins closer Eddie Guardado said he thought there should be no games on Sept. 11. He favored a day off, a time for people to reflect with their families.

"It's a tough question. For me, that day should be a holiday," he said. "I'm going to be praying for people. It's going to be a sad day for everybody."

The day holds special significance for Chicago White Sox coach Art Kusnyer and catcher Josh Paul. They were in New York last Sept. 11--Kusnyer was walking around in midtown and saw one of the towers collapse and Paul lost a friend in the tragedy.

"I think there should be baseball on that day. They shut it down, those terrorists. We should play in honor of all of those people that perished on that terrible day," Kusnyer said.

Paul concurred.

"If people want to spend their day enjoying a ballgame, why not? I don't think it's disrespectful," he said. "We play on Labor Day. We play on Memorial Day. We play on all those other days. It was different a year ago when it happened. Now why can't we just move on? That's my feeling."

The White Sox start a series in New York on Sept. 13. Kusnyer and Paul have different schedules for the weekend stay.

Paul plans to visit the site, Kusnyer will not.

"I'd rather just remember the sight of the buildings still standing," Kusnyer said.

The date already is significant in baseball history.

The Boston Red Sox won their last World Series championship on Sept. 11, 1918, beating the Chicago Cubs in Game 6 at Fenway Park. Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb's career hits record with No. 4,192 on Sept. 11, 1985. Ellis Burks' birthday is Sept. 11.

Ken Griffey Jr., like many ballplayers, can see all sides to this year's question.

"Nobody knows. That's the biggest thing," the Cincinnati star said. "It's going to be tough that day. We'll see."

Met star Mike Piazza, who left Shea a few days ago holding a book of photos of ground zero, felt the same way.

"It's a tough issue to try and strike a balance. I was kind of split down the middle," he said. "Pearl Harbor Day is observed in a sense that it is a day of reflection and remembrance, that's what it should be."

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