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In wake of 9/11, more than a game

September 14, 2004|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

A few weeks ago, after the New York Yankees were humiliated 22-0 by the Cleveland Indians, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner ordered inspirational messages posted around Yankee Stadium and released a statement comparing the team's resiliency to that of New Yorkers as the city recovered from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Perhaps Steinbrenner had been thinking about the new HBO film, "Nine Innings From Ground Zero," which makes the same connection. The co-production between HBO and Major League Baseball has a whiff of Steinbrennerish self-seriousness about it, but it's nonetheless a stirring and well-made record of how baseball, particularly the Yankees' bittersweet journey to the 2001 World Series, helped provide the city solace in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

A litany of fans, journalists and well-known participants such as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Yankees manager Joe Torre, former Mets manager Bobby Valentine and Yankee players Scott Brosius and Paul O'Neil attest to how the games offered a respite from the daily drama that was playing out nine miles from the Bronx in lower Manhattan.

The second half of the film is a vibrant account of the seven-game World Series in which the Yankees faced the Arizona Diamondbacks, one of the best Series in recent years. The games' intensity is underscored by more interviews, as fans and participants recall their wild swings of emotion. The on-field heroics of Derek Jeter and company are juxtaposed -- in a tasteful way, thankfully -- with the recovery efforts at ground zero.

Devoid of rough edges, "Nine Innings" overreaches by painting the Yankees as underdogs who stepped out of their usual roles as villains to temporarily become America's team. The reality is that, apart from New Yorkers, most baseball fans were probably still cheering against the pinstripes, who had won the three previous World Series. The fact that baseball was once again being played in the Big Apple was more than enough to make the rest of the country cheer, whether or not the Yankees won.

The filmmakers (no director is credited) grant the institution of baseball Ken Burns-like gravitas. That may be a bit much for some viewers. "Nine Innings" works best when it sticks to recounting the moving individual stories of the families and tracing the back-and-forth drama of the series rather than hinting at divine intervention.


'Nine Innings From Ground Zero'


Where: HBO

When: 10 tonight

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

Liev Schreiber...Narrator

Executive producers, Ross Greenburg and Rick Bernstein. Writer, Ouisie Shapiro. Producer, Joe Lavine. Coordinating producer, Brian Hyland. Produced in association with Major League Baseball Productions.

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