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updated: 9/8/2011 2:30 PM

Brenly recalls baseball's role after Sept. 11

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  • Ten years ago, Bob Brenly was the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks when they played the New York Yankees in the World Series after the Sept. 11 attacks. A sense of pride overwhelmed him, Brenly said, when President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch for Game 3 at Yankee Stadium.

    Ten years ago, Bob Brenly was the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks when they played the New York Yankees in the World Series after the Sept. 11 attacks. A sense of pride overwhelmed him, Brenly said, when President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch for Game 3 at Yankee Stadium.
    Associated Press file photo

  • Video: President Bush at 2001 World Series


Certainly there are more compelling baseball games for ESPN to show Sunday night than the Cubs-Mets contest.

But there won't be a more emotionally charged setting than Citi Field in New York.

Sunday is Sept. 11, the 10th anniversary of the terrorists attacks on the United States.

The Mets will mark the solemn anniversary with pregame ceremonies, no doubt doing it New York style, with plenty of police and fire-department members on hand along with members of the 2001 Mets team.

Baseball, which provides escape from so many real-life problems, felt the effects of the attacks just as the rest of the country did, and baseball responded in 2001 with tributes in ballparks across the country.

Bob Brenly is the Cubs' TV analyst, but 10 years ago he was the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks. On Sept. 11, he had his team in the midst of a pennant race that would culminate with a World Series victory over the New York Yankees.

The 2001 World Series was one of the most exciting in recent memory, and it spilled into November as baseball went on hold for nearly a week after Sept. 11 as the country mourned before slowly moving on.

The games stopped on Sept. 11, as Major League Baseball and its teams tried to figure out the best way to proceed.

Later that week, teams began working out in their ballparks.

"I don't recall exactly when we started working out again, but I think we were all in shock when it happened, and we didn't know what was appropriate," Brenly said this week from his TV perch. "We knew that at some point we were going to be playing baseball again, but we didn't want to seem insensitive.

"For the first 48 hours or so, everybody was just in shock, just kind of waiting around to see what we should do. After talking it over with (Diamondbacks executives) Jerry Colangelo and Joe Garagiola Jr. and the coaching staff, we started to have workouts to just get our minds back on something that wasn't tragic."

The Diamondbacks, like the Cubs, were home on Sept. 11, so travel wasn't an issue. I remember walking into Wrigley Field later in the week for the first workout. The ballpark was eerily quiet, so quiet on the field that you could hear the flags on the ballpark roof flapping in the breeze.

Whether a team is winning or losing, baseball is a game that requires some joy to play it, but players seemed to go about the workouts cautiously at first before loosening up and finding comfort in familiar routines.

The Diamondbacks had a veteran team that included Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Luis Gonzalez (who ended up with the winning hit in Game 7 of the World Series), Mark Grace, Matt Williams and others.

That, no doubt, helped.

"It was much more subdued than we were used to," Brenly recalled of getting back into the swing of the sport. "We had a very professional, veteran group of guys. They didn't yuck it up a lot, but it was a lot more focused on what we were doing. I think the guys needed it, too. Everybody suffered in their own way when that happened, and I think guys needed a distraction, too."

The Cubs had fallen out of the race by the time play resumed, but they staged a stirring pregame ceremony on their return from a road trip, with police officers and firefighters joining the Cubs and Astros, who lined up on the baselines before the game. American flags draped the buildings around Wrigley Field.

Cubs captain Joe Girardi addressed the crowd and talked of the true nature of heroes.

The drama reached its peak with the Cubs' Sammy Sosa hitting a first-inning home run and carrying a small American flag around the bases during his trot.

For Brenly, the World Series turned especially emotional when the Diamondbacks and Yankees headed to New York for Game 3. New York's finest and bravest were well represented, and President George W. Bush strode to the mound to throw a ceremonial first pitch.

"Just that moment when President Bush walked out to the mound at Yankee Stadium and stuck out his chest and put his chin up high, I mean the hairs on the back of my neck stood up," Brenly said. "That was probably the only moment I really lost sight of what we were doing.

"We were there to try to win a World Series. But at that moment, it was the pride you felt in your country and almost a defiance: 'How dare you mess with our country at this time? You made a bad mistake.' I think we all felt the same pride. That moment is something I'll never forget."

The Diamondbacks won their first and only world championship back in Arizona. For his part, Brenly said he felt the Series helped the country in its own small way.

"I've said it many times: I've never been prouder to be part of Major League Baseball," he said. "We get so caught up in what we're doing, but the reality is we're a distraction, we're entertainment. People's lives go on whether we play ball or not.

"At that particular time, I think baseball served its purpose to the max, as well as we could possibly handle ourselves and fulfill our duty to the country and to the game itself. That was just a very special time for baseball. The country needed something. The city of New York needed something. Fortunately, we were there to provide it, and I don't know how it could have been any more exciting."

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