Eerie quiet at park

Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2001

MILWAUKEE -- Mark McGwire didn't want to talk about baseball or Barry Bonds or the pennant race. He didn't feel like talking about anything at all, really.

McGwire just pointed to the images of terror on the television sets in the visiting clubhouse at Miller Park on Wednesday, and said what mattered now was freedom's future, not America's pastime.

Tears welled in his eyes as he explained that he couldn't add any insight to what is going on now and how trivial sports seemed with such sorrow suffocating the country.

The St. Louis Cardinals, in the midst of a pennant race, and the Milwaukee Brewers, just playing out another long, losing season, worked out Wednesday at Miller Park, five miles from the office of baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who canceled all major league games through Thursday.

With no airplanes overhead and not a soul in the stands, the crack of every bat and the thud of every ball in every glove echoed throughout the ballpark.

They were playing baseball again, but their thoughts were on the terrorism that brought this nation to a standstill.

''It's still shocking,'' Cardinals second baseman Fernando Vina said. ''Everything that's happened, it's like a movie, only it's not fiction.''

But the players know that while their game seemed so trivial at the moment, baseball has long been a healing force during national tragedies.

''It's our job. But I think you've got to let some time pass,'' Vina said.

''You've got to respect what has happened in our country and you can't go out and play baseball today. It wouldn't be right. You can't have a stadium full of people having fun, because that's not what this is about now. This is a tragedy, and we've got to stick together.''

Vina said he wasn't even thinking about the playoffs.

''This is way more important, people's lives,'' he said.

Cardinals pitcher Matt Morris, who was born in Manhattan and still has about 20 family members there, said his father, George, an ironworker, and his uncle, John, a firefighter from the Bronx, were aiding in the rescue efforts 24 hours after the twin towers of the World Trade Center crumbled.

''I'm not thinking about their safety right now, they're trying to help people that are trapped or get the city back running and that's what they're there to do,'' Morris said.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, whose team took a bus back to St. Louis after practice, said the cancellations brought to mind the earthquake that interrupted the 1989 World Series when he was managing the Oakland Athletics.

That was a natural disaster, this one manmade.

''Loss of life puts your game much lower on the priority list,'' La Russa said. ''At some point, life's going to go on, and our lives are baseball.''

And what about Bonds' chase of McGwire's record 70 home runs? What about the Seattle Mariners' chances of having the best record ever? What about the playoffs?

''I think in every walk of life, whether it's athletics or business, everything becomes trivial,'' Brewers shortstop Mark Loretta said.

''I mean, I'm sure the Brewers aren't concerned with their financial hit. Nobody's concerned about their numbers. You can't be. It doesn't even enter your mind.''

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