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Solace at the ballpark

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By Josh Herzenberg - Strasburg Express

As an 11 year old, I was diagnosed with a staph infection in my blood and spent some significant time in and out of the emergency room throughout four months of my life. I missed a good chunk of sixth grade and spent the majority of my time in an arcade down the hall from my hospital room.

At around 8:30 a.m. on a Tuesday morning during my hospital visit, my mother thought it would be a good idea to watch a movie. I had just discovered a liking for dramatic thrillers, and wanted to experience watching a "real movie" (being 11 years old, anything rated PG-13 and above was a big deal). She went to Blockbuster and rented a copy of Air Force One. Air Force Ones to me were a type of sneaker distributed by Nike, not an airplane that flew around the president of the United States. I didn't know the name of the man who starred in the movie was Harrison Ford, only that I'd seen him in Star Wars and Indiana Jones. And I had no clue that a movie about a Russian terrorist group hijacking the president's airplane would alter my life as much as it was about to.

A few scenes into the movie, someone knocked on the door to my room. A lady was there to delivery the daily newspaper, and explained to my mother that she might want to turn off the movie and turn on the news. Curious as to why the lady was so serious, Mom obliged. As she changed the channel to NBC, we watched as a camera from Jersey City panned across the sunny sky and watched a commercial airliner speed unusually low across the New York City skyline. Seconds later, the plane disappeared, exploding into a cloud of smoke, much like the one that the camera displayed right next to it.

It's been nearly 10 years since the newspaper lady at White Plains Hospital told my mom to turn off Air Force One and watch as United Airlines Flight 175 sped 600 miles per hour into the 80th story of the south tower of the World Trade Center. The disaster that ensued was surreal. 2,752 lives were lost in the crash on September 11, 2001, the largest non-military death toll in the history of the United States on American soil. Officials dug around the site that is now known as Ground Zero for weeks, scrounging up various body parts and materials from the fallen buildings. The physical massacre was enormous, and the emotional aftermath was indescribable.

The anger that I have toward those involved with the September 11 attacks will never subside. How could people be so cruel that they feel it is necessary to brutally kill thousands of innocent people? What did these victims do to deserve this punishment? How could these families ... the men, women and children who lost loved ones at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, possibly continue to live happy lives after their well-being was gruesomely and abruptly taken from them by these tyrants? For years I have searched for an answer, a peaceful proposition. Trouble was- I couldn't find one. Not in the media, not in my friends, not in my heart. Not in my visits to firehouses around New York City that documented the brothers and sisters they had lost in the tragedy. Not in my visits to the 16-acre plot of land in downtown Manhattan that houses the Ground Zero monument for the thousands who perished. I just couldn't come to a personal justification, a satisfactory reason to cool my permanent anger just a bit.

I sat in my room on May 1, 2011, watching a movie when suddenly my friend's Facebook statuses began quickly changing, all having the same theme. I quickly turned to the news. CNN was reporting that they'd received word ... American troops had found Osama bin Laden, and he was dead. My heart sunk. The name Osama bin Laden had become a devilish term in my head, a person who I'd compared to Hitler or Mussolini. A person who'd become somewhat of a folklore, a ghost hiding in a mountainous land thousands of miles away. He was responsible for all those emotions over the last decade, and we couldn't find him.

President Barack Obama came onto the TV at 11:35 p.m. and delivered a 10 minute speech. It was true. Osama was dead. He was found in a mansion outside of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad and shot by a covert operation brought out by the Navy SEALS. His corpse had been covered in traditional Muslim attire and laid to rest at sea.

The death of an icon like Bin Laden brings about mixed emotions. For one, it provides an incredible sense of pride for my country. A man who'd caused so much hurt to myself and my people was finally caught and killed. I am proud to be able to say I am indirectly associated with the military personnel who have dedicated their lives to make ours safer...and done it with great levels of success. I feel proud to be able to see the relief and happiness displayed by the families of those that lost their lives on September 11, 2001. Yet at the same time, the angry emotions still come raging back to the forefront of my mind. Why? What is going to happen now? How do we recover? What do we do?

Much of the somber emotions surrounding the events that are associated with the notions of September 11 can be personified in a few events. Baseball has been a pleasant escape from the hardships of reality for nearly two centuries for millions of Americans. However, due to the events of September 11, the Major League Baseball season schedule had to be modified. In the days following the tragedy, no games were played.

In fact, the city of New York had been, for lack of better words, shut down in the days following the tragedy. Mayor Rudy Giuliani ensured that the city would remain a safe place, and security was excruciatingly tightened. It took 10 days for any professional sporting event to occur anywhere around the New York metro area. That game occurred on September 21, a baseball game between the Mets and the Braves.

The game was rather uneventful until the 8th inning, when Edgardo Alfonso of the Mets reached base against Braves' pitcher Steve Karsay. On an 0-1 pitch, Mets All-Star slugger Mike Piazza drove a fastball deep to left centerfield, off of the camera stand for a two-run home run, to give the Mets a 3-2 lead and what would be the game winning run. The place erupted. People jumped up and down and screamed and cheered and hugged and clapped. It was as if they'd found it, a nirvana-like peace. It was as if New York City breathed a sigh of relief, a load off the shoulders of the nation. It was the first time in 10 days that New York had something to smile about. As Mike Piazza crossed home plate, Shea Stadium burst into a chant of "USA, USA!" The game was halted for a long moment, as Steve Karsay stood on the mound and the rest of the players assumed a position of amazement, gazing around the stadium as tens of thousands of Americans joined together in jubilation.

After watching President Obama's speech on May 1, 2011, I turned on ESPN to watch an extra inning battle between the Phillies and Mets in Philadelphia. While hitters attempted to hit the sliders and changeups the pitchers from each team were throwing at them, the crowd quickly grew louder with each passing moment. It wasn't exactly a situation during the game that warranted cheers, yet they grew louder. Soon, the announcers grew quiet and the audio focused in on the stands at Citizens Bank Park. At that point, much of the stadium had received the news of Bin Laden's killing. And the same chant grew louder. "USA, USA!"

There are many different types of people who make up the 300 million-plus population in the United States of America. These people are all made of different DNA, different body parts. These people were all raised in different places, in different ways. These people all have different ideals, values and beliefs. But on the nights of September 21, 2001 and May 1, 2011, it seemed that the people of America recognized the one thing they do have in common: their nation. The pride and camaraderie displayed in Queens and in Philadelphia on those two nights are moments that will have a lasting impact on me, and will forever remain on my mind.

Today, I can comfortably say this: I am more proud to be an American than I have ever been.


YouTube: Piazza's Healing HR

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