Story by William Carter / Sports Editor
Very few moments have occurred that completely shut down the sports world. Most recently, the Coronavirus pandemic shut down the majority of the world for months, taking sports with it. The most memorable before that is 9/11. September 11, 2001 was a normal Tuesday in America until 8:45 a.m. when the first plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Many were confused and without understanding of what truly was happening. Others were less fortunate. Approximately 20 minutes later, the second plane crashed into the South Tower. By that point, most of the country began to realize the seriousness of the situation. At 9:37 a.m. the Pentagon was struck by the third plane. The fourth and final hijacked plane did not reach its original destination nor its path of destruction. Onboard passengers braved the terrorists, and were able to recapture command of the cockpit before crashing into the wilderness of Pennsylvania. America was in shock, and filled with grief and sadness. With it came a sense of pride and patriotism which, in large part, was kindled by baseball.
MTSU baseball head coach Jim Toman was coaching at the University of South Carolina at the time. Just like any other day, he was driving his young kids to school before heading into the office to prepare for Fall practice. Toman heard of the attack before reaching his office, and he realized the severity of it when he arrived.
“I remember that day distinctly. I remember going into the office and turning the TV on, and seeing the plane run into one of the towers,” Toman said. “We were just in a daze there for a couple hours.”
700 miles away, yet the magnitude of the moment was felt. Even in that small office in South Carolina, the people united and wanted to support their fellow Americans.
“Everyone in the athletic department gathered and prayed for everyone and for our country,” Toman said. “It was one of those times where even though I was a little older, I was ready to go to war.”
The sports world ceased before returning with the intent of supplying solace.
The first professional game in New York after the attacks was played by the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves on September 21. Mets players wore NYPD and NYFD patches on their helmets, showing support for the hundreds that fought the fires and served their city during and after the attack. It was a distraction — something to focus on other than the world around it. Late in the game, the Mets trailed the Braves with fan-favorite Mike Piazza coming up to bat. With a runner on base, Piazza launched a pitch into the stands giving the Mets a 3-2 lead and the eventual win. The entire stadium came alive with fans from both sides erupting. To this day, it is one of the greatest games to ever be played.
On October 30, 2001, President Bush threw out the first pitch in Yankee stadium for the Yankees game three playoff matchup with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Bush, without security, wore a bulletproof vest underneath a New York Fire Department jacket. Walking to the mound, chants of “U.S.A! U.S.A!” screeched throughout the stadium. Bush gave a thumbs up before rearing back and tossing a perfect pitch across the plate.
The crowd erupted once more.
What President Bush did that day was unprecedented, but it gave Americans something to cheer for. The emotions of that moment transcended through the walls of Yankee Stadium.
“When the President threw that first pitch out, that was probably one of the most awesome things,” Toman said. “It showed to me that he was a really good leader, and that baseball can bring about that type of patriotism. I think that will go down as one of the greatest pitches in all of baseball.”
In a time where all anyone had was hope, baseball provided comfort.