Just nine days earlier, terrorists had destroyed the two towers at the World Trade Center and provided further fear with the devastation provided by two other hijacked commercial airliners. With the entire nation and much of the world feeling both terror and outrage, the Braves were about to approach the destroyed portion of Manhattan that they'd viewed countless times on television over the previous week.
"It was an eerie, eerie feeling driving in there, because we didn't know what to expect," Chipper Jones said. "We were the first sporting event going in there. You didn't know if there were going to be follow up attacks or whatnot. It was a pretty scary time. What better place to carry out an attack than at a jam-packed sporting venue. We were all a little nervous and hesitant."
After they'd felt the awe of entering New York City without being greeted by the fallen towers, the Braves prepared for their Sept. 21 game against the Mets. They owned just a 1 1/2-game division lead over the Phillies at the time, and the Mets' postseason hopes were very much alive.
But the 41,235 fans who showed up at Shea Stadium that evening weren't simply coming to see the Braves and Mets renew their rivalry. Among all the beautiful patriotic ceremonies staged that evening was the sense that these two teams were providing therapy for a city that had taken the brunt of the attacks that had gripped the entire nation just 10 days earlier.
For the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, a professional sporting event was being staged in New York City. Before the game, the Braves and Mets exchanged hugs and handshakes, and many members of both teams wore hats that recognized New York City's police force and firefighters.
There was a definite sense of unity. Thus, it almost didn't seem to matter to the Braves that they were defeated by Mike Piazza's two-run eighth-inning homer off Steve Karsay.
"It was very special for me to hug some of the families of those involved," Braves outfielder Brian Jordan said. "It was good to be back playing and playing for the fans of New York. It almost didn't matter who won that game. Competitively, you want to win. But it was just a great time to see Piazza win the game right there for New York. They needed something."
Like they chose to remember the fallen on that ceremony-filled night five years ago, the Braves recognized the fifth anniversary of Setp. 11 before their Monday night game against the Cubs at Turner Field. In recognition, each of the players wore an American flag on the side of their hat.
Before the game, many players, including Jones and Bob Wickman, signed autographs in exchange for a $5 donation to benefit the World Trade Center Memorial Fund, raising just shy of $3,300.
Before Army National Guard members from Dobbins Air Force Base staged a Blackhawk helicopters flyover at the conclusion of the national anthem, Metro Atlanta police officers and firefighters gathered in a diamond around the infield dirt. At the same time, military personnel unfurled a flag in center field.
The service men and women took their spots on the field to the symbolic sound provided by the Atholl Highlanders Pipes and Drums team, which played "Amazing Grace" and "Taps" after a moment of silence was observed.
"It doesn't seem like it's been five years, because you're reminded day in and day out because of some terrorist act. I can't believe it's been five years," Jordan said. "It seems like it was yesterday."
Jordan, Braves manager Bobby Cox, head trainer Jeff Porter and assistant general manager Frank Wren were among the many current organization members who visited Ground Zero just days after the attack. Each came away understanding that television wasn't able to provide justice to the actual destruction.
"It was a lot worse down there than it was on television," Cox said. "It was a bigger area in person. It was scary. It was just surreal. The memory is still there."
Nor will Cox ever forget the feeling he experienced that weekend at Shea Stadium. Gone are the memories of Piazza's home run. But alive is the remembrance of the patriotic sense provided by a city that was still in mourning.
"You could tell that everybody had pulled together," Cox said. "It was kind of like you were just proud to be an American."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less