MINNEAPOLIS — Dave Martinez vividly remembers watching Mike Piazza round first base in front of him and fans crying in the stands and the crowd being so loud that, even 18 years later, it still plays straight into his ears.
Martinez, now the manager of the Washington Nationals, was playing first for the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium on Sept. 21, 2001. It was the first game in New York following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Piazza hit an eighth-inning home run to give the Mets a 3-2 lead, and the fans, emotional all night, went wild. The video is still played around this time every year and is remembered as the first stages of a healing process that will never end.
In the wide shot of Piazza circling the bases, Martinez steps onto the infield grass and pats his glove. He was 36 years old then, in the final months of a 16-year career, and had just entered the game as a pinch hitter before staying in to play defense. It’s something he will never forget.
“To hear those people cheer and hear the fans, for that split-second I can remember just forgetting what had happened but not really,” Martinez said in his office at Target Field on Wednesday afternoon. “But for the fans, it was an unbelievable breath of fresh air. This country’s been through a lot, and we stuck together.
“So to be a part of that and to be a part of this country, I’m just really happy to be an American. And those people that lost lives, my heart goes out to them, always.”
Martinez looked past the television camera as his eyes filled with tears. There were baseball matters to talk about — his bullpen, the health of his players, a game that would start at 6:40 p.m. local time in Minneapolis — but Martinez had spent the day recalling 9/11 and what happened afterward. He was home in Tampa when the attacks unfolded. He took his kids out of school, scrambling like the rest of the country, and turned on the TV to see a clip of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center.
The Braves and Martinez played in Philadelphia six days later. The Mets and New York Yankees didn’t play at home until days after that, their city reeling, and that’s when the Braves arrived at Shea Stadium for that game. Martinez and his teammates colored the athletic tape on their wrists with red, white and blue marker. He recalled the national anthem and then the singing of “God Bless America” in the seventh inning and then Piazza lifting that pitch beyond the center field wall.
“I just kind of stood back and just watched him jog by me like, ‘Wow,’” Martinez said. “I just listened. And I could hear the fans. Look in the stands, and there were people crying. There were so many people from the fire department, the police department, there at the game. It was something.”
“As I recall, we didn’t score very many runs,” Martinez continued, and he was right. The Mets won, 3-2. “And it was two teams out there really fighting to do what we felt was important, and that’s to be out there for the fans and to play baseball and for those three hours to try to forget about everything. But it was hard. It was really hard.”
Once Martinez’s pregame media session was over and the cameras and recorders shut off, a reporter thanked him for sharing that story.
“Yeah,” Martinez said, his eyes still teary, his voice lowered to a near-whisper. “Thanks for asking.”
Trea Turner SS
Adam Eaton RF
Anthony Rendon 3B
Juan Soto LF
Howie Kendrick DH
Ryan Zimmerman 1B
Brian Dozier 2B
Yan Gomes C
Victor Robles CF
Stephen Strasburg P
Luis Arreaz LF
Jorge Polanco SS
Nelson Cruz DH
Eddie Rosario RF
Willians Astudillo 1B
Ehire Adrianza 3B
LaMonte Wade Jr. CF
Jonathan Schoop 2B
Jason Castro C
Martin Perez P
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