After tragedy reared its ugly face to terrorize Boston on Monday, New York understood.
In those moments of watching the events of the Boston Marathon unfold on every media outlet, I was immediately taken back to that time when I was 9 and the home I knew my whole life was rocked by 9/11. I knew the pain, the fear, the confusion, the inability to understand such an evil could ever happen in your backyard that all those at the Boston Marathon experienced firsthand on Monday.
I also knew, even if I was too young to understand at the time, that baseball was what helped so many people I knew and loved get through the devastation and recognize hope and happiness again.
That’s why I’m writing about how after Tuesday’s game against the Diamondbacks, I’ll never be able to hate the New York Yankees again, even though I’m a New York Mets fan.
I can’t even begin to describe the surprise that came over me when I first read the Yankees, the evil empire of baseball, would be paying tribute to Boston not just with a sign that said the former would stand with their greatest rivals, but that they would play Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” the anthem of the Boston Red Sox, at the end of the third inning. One of the greatest rivalries in all of sports would forget a near century’s worth of hatred and would comfort.
And the more and more I think about it, I realize how foolish it was to be surprised by such an act of generosity, even if it came from the Yankees. When you get right down to it, I think what New York showed Boston on Tuesday night is why I and so many others love baseball so much. Because more than any other sport on the planet, baseball is the one that remains so humble and non-petty, yet still manages to transcend and become more than it actually is.
If anyone knows pain, suffering and the darkest corners of human grief, it’s a New York fan. I was disgusted by the comparisons people made between 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombings, saying that what happened in Boston was not even close to what happened in New York almost 12 years ago. I couldn’t believe that a group of people who knew the pain caused by unfathomable evil could even possess the disrespect to invalidate the experience that so unfortunately fell on Bostonians just days ago.
How can we compare tragedies? Are those immediate feelings of confusion and fear any different whether it’s a terrorist attack in New York, a shooting spree in Tucson, Aurora or Newtown or a bomb going off in Boston? Tragedy, no matter where it happens or the body count it commands, always looks the same — it is hideous, malicious and frightening.
And the New York Yankees know that. And what the New York Yankees also know is that in the aftermath of such horror, the only real comfort one can find is the promise that in anyone’s arms, you are permitted to grieve and find solace.
The Yankees playing “Sweet Caroline” wasn’t just some nice thing they felt obligated to do. They played that song because they know something so small as playing a song over a PA system could send such a booming message. It showed us why baseball still matters.
There’s a quote from the now-deceased, great American columnist Mary McGrory that goes “Baseball is what we were, and football is what we have become.” For the longest time I agreed, and to an extent I probably still do. But after what happened in New York on Tuesday, April 16, 2013, I’m not so sure. I think we recognize how much we take on the persona of football, but I think deep inside every American, there is still baseball. When tested, we are still baseball.
We’re still the hope and humanity that is baseball. Baseball has always represented an American ideal of comfort and humanity; the romanticism of baseball is something no one is willing to let go of. What we saw on Tuesday night, as two rivals looked past years of hatred and hostility, was a country’s never-ending ability to show compassion and empathy during a time when two such things are necessary for our survival. I believe in that.