Texas Rangers third base coach Gary Pettis said it is important for Major League Baseball — and all Americans — to take a moment to remember Sept. 11.
Pettis has vivid memories of that day 12 years ago when two hijacked jets were flown into the World Trade Center towers. Pettis was then a coach for the Chicago White Sox, who had arrived in town only a few hours earlier for a scheduled game against the New York Yankees that night.
“You could smell the smoke. It wasn’t a good feeling that day,” Pettis said Wednesday before the Rangers played the Pittsburgh Pirates. “It’s so sad that so many people lost their lives and it’s ruined other peoples’ lives. … It’s like it was a movie, it’s like that wasn’t something that actually happened. I still can’t believe it.”
MLB players, coaches and umpires wore American flag patches embroidered on the side of their caps on Wednesday. Special lineup cards were to be used, and patriotic on-field tributes were planned for the 15 games Wednesday, involving all 30 teams.
There was a moment of silence before the game in Texas, and the Pirates lined up in front of the visitors dugout at Rangers Ballpark.
The 531st U.S. Air Force Quintet performed the national anthem instrumentally, with the presentation by the color guard from Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in nearby Fort Worth. The honorary first pitch was thrown out by former prisoner of war Jessica Lynch, who was 19 when she was captured along with five others after the U.S. Army’s 570th Maintenance Company took a wrong turn and came under attack in Iraq in 2003. She was held for nine days before being rescued.
Flags at Rangers Ballpark were at half-staff, as were those at Progressive Field in Cleveland and Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati.
The Cleveland Police Department presented the colors before the national anthem before the Kansas City Royals played the Indians.
In Cincinnati, where the Reds hosted the Chicago Cubs, a steel beam from the World Trade Center was on display courtesy of the Cincinnati Fire Museum. More than 20 soldiers from the 10th Battalion of the Army Reserve Careerist Division were on the field before the game for reenlistment in the United States Army.
Pettis and the White Sox had arrived in New York 12 years ago around 2-3 a.m., and he was awoken by a phone call from a friend checking to make sure he was OK.
“I said, ‘Yeah, I’m OK, I’m asleep.’ He said, “you don’t know do you?” Pettis recalled. “I turn on the TV and I see that the building — smoke’s coming out of the building, and they said there had been a plane crash.”
Like so many others, Pettis thought maybe it was just a tragic accident before the second plane hit the other tower.
The White Sox were staying in a hotel at Grand Central Station, a little more than three miles from the World Trade Center site. Pettis and the rest of the staff worked to locate everybody with the team, and to get out of the building, with concerns about more potential attacks.
“We were going down the stairs and you hear this rumble, and we’re going what the heck is that?” Pettis said. “We just kind of take off running out the doors, and now we see people running out of the train station, and we had no idea what they were running from.”
Pettis can’t believe it’s been 12 years. Before going to the ballpark on Wednesday morning, he turned on his TV knowing what he was going to see.
“It took me a minute to get up and get my day going because I started watching some of the stories and listening to some of the people talk about being there, and then seeing some of the messages that were left for families,” he said.
Rangers manager Ron Washington was then a coach with the Oakland Athletics, who were home for a series against Texas. He remembers listening to an Isley Brothers song while taking his truck for service when his wife called to tell him about the terrorist attacks.
“I think what happened crosses your mind,” Washington said. “You take a moment and think about all the people that lost their lives and all the families that were disrupted, and all the damage that it has done.”
Pirates infielder Clint Barmes remembers exactly where he was and what he was doing 12 years ago. He was only 22 years old in his second season of pro ball, and on the way home after winning the championship with high-A Salem the night before.
“I didn’t get a chance to see anything on TV until I got home later that evening. … Had my car already packed ready to go. I woke up, jumped in my car and started driving home before I realized exactly what happened,” Barmes said. “There’s a lot of things that goes through your mind when something like that happens. It was a scary moment for sure.”