Cubs will feel a wave of emotions in NY on 911

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Cubs will feel a wave of emotions in NY on 911

Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011Posted: 6:24 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney Sox Drawer: The White Sox on 911

Alfonso Soriano woke up that morning and turned on the television. He wondered what movie it was before changing to a different channel. He kept flipping and everywhere he saw the same haunting images of the Twin Towers.

Soriano checked his phone and noticed he had about 20 messages, friends wondering if he was all right and the team telling him that there would be no game that night.

Soriano lived in northern New Jersey, not far from the George Washington Bridge that would lead him into Yankee Stadium. From his place, you could look out the window and get sweeping views of New York.

Soriano loved the bright lights of the city, the big bounce and extra energy youd get from New York. The strong Dominican community there made him feel comfortable. Soon everyone would essentially look the same. Scared. Confused. Lost.

Soriano was a 25-year-old rookie, surrounded by his mother and two brothers. Against a bright blue sky, he could see the smoke rising from a skyline that would never look the same again.

Two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center.

In the fall of 2001, the New York Yankees would become Americas Team. The emotions and adrenaline from Sept. 11 would fuel their run to the World Series. Ten years later, Soriano recalled the urgency inside the clubhouse.

We got to give something to the city.

Zombies

The Atlanta Braves were the first team into New York after 911. Chipper Jones remembers walking a few blocks around the team hotel, unsure what he was doing there.

It was like 1,000-yard stares everywhere, Jones recalled. Everybody was still just kind of dumbfounded. Everybody was kind of walking around like zombies. We (all had) the same look: Amazement as to how this could have happened.

The Beatles, the World Series and Pope John Paul II had all played Shea Stadium. It quickly became a relief center, the gate areas and parking lots filling with food and supplies. On Sept. 21, it hosted the citys first sporting event since the terrorist attacks.

The New York Mets wore hats honoring the citys real heroes NYPD, FDNY, PAPD, EMS.

I think I could speak for everybody in my clubhouse, Jones said. We didnt want to be there. We didnt want to be playing baseball at that particular time. I think most guys would tell you if they had a choice, they would want to go enlist and go kick some ass.

We were pissed off and we were mad and we were angry. And the last thing we wanted to do was to be playing baseball. But it was our job. (Maybe) baseball, for some people, was the first step towards trying to rebuild things (and) trying to get that sense of normalcy back.

Witnesses

Jeff Baker was sitting in a nutrition class at Clemson University when he heard the first fragments of news. You might remember where you were when President Kennedy was shot. Another generation lived through Pearl Harbor. This was one of those moments youll never forget.

Baker was born in West Germany and moved all around the world following his father, Larry, a former U.S. Army colonel and West Point professor. While stationed in Dubai, Baker would stay at home with his mother inside their villa while his dad went out into the 110-degree heat to install missile-defense systems.

On 911, Baker was able to quickly reach his father, who still had security clearance at the Pentagon, but had rotated back to an assignment at the Defense Nuclear Agency, where he served during Operation Desert Storm.

Baker had a teammate on the Clemson baseball team whose father also worked at the Pentagon, on the side of the building where the 757 hit. Baker watched the concern on his face as he struggled to reach his father and the relief when they finally made contact.

Thousands lost parents who wouldnt be able to watch their kids grow up, leaving empty seats at baseball games, graduations and weddings.

The Cubs utility man understands the sacrifices that have been made in the 10 years since. He knows there will be an electricity in the air before the Cubs play the Mets on Sunday night at Citi Field.

(Its) remembering and rejoicing (and) celebrating their lives, Baker said. (Its) not only the people (who) paid the ultimate price and gave up their life. (Its) the firefighters, the families, the policemen, everybody, the whole city of New York. For such a tragic event, the way they handled themselves afterward is pretty remarkable.

Im not sure if any other city in the world could do it.

Targets

As Jones ran out to left field the night of Sept. 21, he picked up a few cartridges that had fallen to the ground during the 21-gun salute at Shea Stadium. He still has them to this day.

It was scary, Jones said. I think we were all a little leery of being back in town so close to 911, just because its so close to LaGuardia (Airport). A major-league ballpark would be you would think a prime target with so many people being in one spot. It was probably my most vivid memory of any game that Ive ever played in.

Jones is 39 years old now, a seven-time All-Star whos won a World Series ring and been part of 20 postseason series. In the bottom of the eighth inning, the 41,275 fans in Flushing watched Mike Piazza smash the go-ahead, two-run homer that lifted the Mets to a 3-2 win over the Braves.

It was divine intervention, Jones said of Piazzas shot. We all took it upon ourselves to help do our part. And part of it was entertaining the people of New York and people all over America for three hours. That was our job, trying to return some little piece of normalcy to everyday life.

Honestly, it was the first time Ive played in that stadium where I got more thank yous than boos. It was just a really kind of humbling experience.

Heroes

After landing in New York with a 2-0 World Series lead, Arizona Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly and a group of around 30 players, coaches and front-office staffers visited the rescue workers at Ground Zero.

(It was only a) couple hours we spent there, Brenly recalled. (But) I still have mental scars from what I saw and what I heard that day. For people who had loved ones that were there or people who had rescue workers that were going down there every day they definitely needed something to take their mind off what was going on.

Brenly, the Cubs television analyst, remembers President Bush standing on the mound at Yankee Stadium with his chest out and his chin up, throwing a first-pitch strike before Game 3.

The rest was a blur: The Yankees winning three straight one-run games, one in 10 innings, another in 12. The Diamondbacks coming back in the bottom of the ninth inning against the great Mariano Rivera to win it all in Game 7.

Ive never experienced anything quite like it at a ballpark, Brenly said. Baseballs a distraction. Its entertainment. We take it way too seriously. But at that particular time, the country needed something like that.

A decade later, baseball in New York will be a way to snap out of the distraction, a needed reminder of what was lost, and what should never be forgotten.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Jon Lester vs. Clayton Kershaw doesn’t live up to expectations as Dodgers sweep Cubs

Jon Lester vs. Clayton Kershaw doesn’t live up to expectations as Dodgers sweep Cubs

LOS ANGELES – In a Cubs season that has already gone off script – or at least not followed the dynasty-in-waiting narrative – it made perfect sense that a Jon Lester vs. Clayton Kershaw matchup at Dodger Stadium would devolve into a slugfest and a bullpen battle.

Randy Newman’s voice – “I Love L.A.” – blasted from the sound system late Sunday afternoon as the Dodgers put the finishing touches on a three-game sweep of the defending World Series champs. The Cubs led for one half-inning during this entire weekend and will wake up in San Diego on Memorial Day as a 25-24 team.

This 9-4 blowout again showed that the Dodgers should be a force in October. Forget about the way forward-thinking manager Dave Roberts basically tried to MacGyver his way through last year’s National League Championship Series with three pitchers – Kershaw, lefty curveball specialist Rich Hill and star closer Kenley Jansen.

“That’s the big separator between what I saw last year and right now – how they’re pitching,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

It didn’t matter that Kershaw got knocked out in the middle of the fifth inning after Willson Contreras, Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo launched home runs and the Cubs generated 11 hits off the three-time Cy Young Award winner.

Kershaw still outlasted Lester, who dropped his head, stared at the grass and walked off the mound with one out and two runners on in the fourth inning. The Cubs had earlier fallen into a 6-1 deficit after Lester gave up two three-run homers to Cody Bellinger and Kike Hernandez.

In back-to-back shutouts, the Dodgers (31-20) had already beaten a Cy Young Award winner dealing with questions about his velocity and looming free agency (Jake Arrieta) and a three-time World Series champion who’s 38 years old and now has a 5.18 ERA (John Lackey).

“It’s always tougher the second time, because everybody’s gunning for you,” said Ben Zobrist, who should be back in the lineup on Monday after missing two games with a sore left wrist. “Your expectations are even higher than they were before.

“But this team is definitely equal to the task. That’s not the problem as much as we just got to get back to the fundamentals and execution of the little details in the game. And everything else kind of takes care of itself.”

Joe Maddon has no choice but to ignore noise and put his faith in young Cubs lineup

Joe Maddon has no choice but to ignore noise and put his faith in young Cubs lineup

LOS ANGELES – Right around the time Theo Epstein was asked when the Cubs might consider sending Kyle Schwarber down to Triple-A Iowa, Ian Happ became the new shiny object for fans and the Chicago media.

In less than 200 at-bats, Schwarber went from World Series legend to dropping from the leadoff spot to being a platoon player to getting shipped away in a fantasy-baseball trade for pitching. 

Unless the Cubs moved Javier Baez, because Gold Glove-caliber middle infielders on a 25-homer, 90-RBI pace just fall from trees. Not to mention someone already proven on the biggest stages as a National League Championship Series co-MVP and World Baseball Classic star.

Even Happ is coming back down to earth as the league adjusts to him. Still, Cubs manager Joe Maddon has no choice but to block out the noise, trust all this young talent and believe in the players who delivered last October.    

“The best I can do is talk to the player himself, which I’ve done with ‘Schwarbs,’” Maddon said before Sunday’s game at Dodger Stadium, staying upbeat and in character after back-to-back shutouts. “That’s just the nature of the industry. That’s a part of it that makes it so much fun, too, for the fan, the fact that they can interact and throw out their conjecture like that. 

“Internally, it has nothing to do with how we react to anything. And you have to talk to the player, because he’s always feeling these outside sources pressing down on him. He really shouldn’t, but they’re human beings. 

“How do you prevent that from really infiltrating? It’s just conversation with the guys themselves. That’s about it. You ask the player to really not pay attention and listen to that. 

“But, again, with all the tablets and the different sources available to follow what’s going on, it’s almost inevitable they’re going to hear or read something. So you got to stay positive with them. And we have to have that conversation with them to maintain their confidence.”

The Sunday lineup constructed to face Clayton Kershaw featured eight position players between the ages of 22 and 27: Baez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Happ, Jason Heyward, Willson Contreras, Addison Russell and Albert Almora Jr.

A team built around offensive firepower woke up that morning ranked eighth and ninth in the NL in runs scored (231) and OPS (.736). A .222 batting average with runners in scoring position placed the Cubs 15th out of the NL’s 15 teams. “The best explanation I can offer is that we’re hitting young,” Maddon said. “You look at the end of last season and how well a lot of the guys that are struggling right now performed under those circumstances. I believe we’re going to come back and do that.

“In the meantime, they need our support. They need our conversations, so nobody’s left in the dark or wondering what everybody’s thinking about around here. They need openness. And if you get that, they’ll come back.” 

[MORE: The learning curve for Ian Happ]

The Cubs have bigger problems, like an inconsistent rotation that has kept this team hovering around .500 and prevented any real sense of momentum. This is still largely the same group of hitters that beat Johnny Cueto, outlasted Madison Bumgarner, eliminated Kershaw and wore down Corey Kluber during last year’s World Series run.

“They’ll get it together,” Maddon said. “We haven’t even come close to hitting that real offensive ‘go’ moment. We haven’t been there and we’re still paddling pretty well. That moment’s coming. 

“Whether it’s Happ making adjustments, Contreras making adjustments, Addison making adjustments, these guys were pretty good at the end of last season in some really difficult moments, so they’ll be back.”