'There was literal panic in the streets': A beat writer's account of 9/11

  • The New York Yankees bow their heads during a moment of silence in memory of those killed in the World Trade Center Attack prior to game against the Chicago White Sox, on Sept. 18, 2001, in Chicago.

    The New York Yankees bow their heads during a moment of silence in memory of those killed in the World Trade Center Attack prior to game against the Chicago White Sox, on Sept. 18, 2001, in Chicago. AP File Photo

 
 
Posted9/11/2021 8:00 AM

On Sept. 10, 2001, the White Sox played a marathon game at Cleveland and beat the Indians 7-1.

Jose Canseco, yes, he played for the Sox that season, went 2-for-3, walked twice and scored 3 runs in the Monday night win. Dan Wright started for the White Sox and pitched 7 strong innings while matching up against the Indians' Bartolo Colon.

 

All in all, it was another nondescript game in another long season.

The Sox chartered to New York for a three-game series against the Yankees after beating Cleveland.

As they woke up the next morning in midtown Manhattan, the world instantly changed for the worse.

The 9/11 attacks on the nearby World Trade Center jolted the White Sox and shut down baseball for a week.

"I was freaked out," said Mark Buehrle, who was nearing the end of his first season in the Sox's starting rotation 20 years ago. "I remember going from one guy's room to my room and I felt like someone was going to come out of a room, or jump out of the staircase or something, and attack me. It was just being tense for a couple of days."

The White Sox were able to bus out of New York City the morning of Sept. 12 and get back to Chicago. I was miles ahead of them on the Ohio and Indiana turnpikes, heading home equally freaked out.

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•••

Packing the morning of 9/11 in my room at the historic Renaissance Hotel in downtown Cleveland, the phone rang.

Chris De Luca, the White Sox beat writer for the Chicago Sun-Times was on the other end. He was also staying at the Renaissance and we were on the same scheduled flight to New York.

I initially thought he was calling to confirm the time we'd meet in the lobby to grab a taxi to the airport.

Incorrect.

"Do you have the TV on?" De Luca asked.

"Do not." I switched on ESPN, expecting some trade news or something baseball related. Nothing.

"Turn on CNN," De Luca said.

Flipping channels, I originally thought a private plane veered off course and hit one of the Twin Towers in New York. Or, maybe it was an inexperienced pilot who really screwed up.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

As the news started sinking in, so did the feeling in my stomach.

It wasn't long until the second plane hit the World Trade Center, confirming this was indeed a terrorist attack.

Any thought of getting a delayed flight to New York instantly vanished.

Getting home to my pregnant wife and young son became the priority, and De Luca was also laser focused on returning safely to his young family.

Speaking of safe, there seemingly was no better place to be than Cleveland on 9/11. Wrong.

As De Luca and I huddled in the hotel lobby trying to figure out what to do, blaring alarms sounded throughout the downtown area and we were told to evacuate.

Before crashing in Shanksville, Pa., United Flight 93 flew right over downtown Cleveland at a low altitude.

•••

There was literal panic in the streets as De Luca and I got very lucky chasing down a cab.

As we headed toward the airport, securing a rental car was the main objective. We both worked our flip phones and didn't have any local luck.

I did get a line on a car, but that meant taking the taxi over 100 miles to Toledo to pick it up and there was no guarantee the reservation would hold.

Switching gears, we got the last two hotel rooms at a rundown hotel near the Cleveland airport. Since a national ground stop was in place for flights, I tried getting us back home on Amtrak and De Luca continued to work on rental cars through the afternoon and evening of Sept. 11.

The phone rang again, the morning of Sept. 12.

"Got a car," De Luca said.

Off we went, headed home while listening to any news station we could find on the car radio through Ohio and Indiana.

•••

A frightening time, indeed, as was the return trip to New York City three weeks later.

The White Sox and Yankees played a makeup series Oct. 1-3, but that's not what I remember.

I do remember booking a room at the Marriott Marquis for $90 a night, about a third of what it cost before 9/11.

I remember walking around an empty Times Square looking into empty restaurants and stores.

I remember buying three T-shirts in front of a midtown fire station fundraising for 15 lives lost in the attack.

I remember taking the subway down to lower Manhattan, getting off at the last stop well short of Wall Street and walking as close to ground zero as permitted.

I remember the smell of the smoke, seeing all of the dust and debris.

I remember the thousands of haunting photos of the missing hanging on walls, poles and windows throughout the city.

Much like three weeks earlier, I remember really wanting to get back home.

Twenty years later, I'll never forget.

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