Players back on field, pennant races kept in perspective

Posted: Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Derek Jeter thinks baseball might be just what Americans need to take their minds off the horror.

''It gives the fans a way to forget what's happened for a few hours,'' he said.

Being back on the field helped Jeter and the rest of the New York Yankees, too.

The star shortstop singled, scored and turned a double play in the first inning Tuesday night in the Yankees' first game since the terrorist attacks exactly one week earlier.

A day after baseball returned from a six-day break with a patriotic flourish, major leaguers tried to put the focus back on the field. The crowd of about 23,000 at Comiskey Park -- par for the White Sox -- cheered when the players with ''New York'' across their uniforms lined up.

Boston's Fenway Park was close to capacity, as always, and it was the same at Cleveland's Jacobs Field, where almost 35,000 fans showed up. For the most part, crowds were between 20,000 and 30,000, about average for this time of year.

San Francisco's Barry Bonds picked up his chase to break Mark McGwire's home run record and more than a dozen teams resumed pennant races. A sellout crowd at Safeco Field wanted to see the Seattle Mariners clinch the AL West.

''We have some unfinished business to take care of,'' Seattle's Jay Buhner said. ''It will be tough to have the same frame of mind we had before, but we still have a chance to do something pretty special.''

Every team was in action following six games Monday night, and there were reminders everywhere of the tragedies in New York and Washington.

Perhaps the most compelling image came at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, where the Mets took the field wearing caps honoring New York's fire, police and emergency personnel. On Monday night, the Mets wore them for pregame ceremonies -- on Tuesday night, they got permission from major league baseball to wear them the whole game.

Mets general manager Steve Phillips said a fan wrote him a letter suggesting the Mets wear the caps.

Mike Piazza, with ''NYPD'' on his batting helmet, hit a key home run that lifted the Mets over the Pirates 7-5.

''I feel there's nothing really we can do to repay them,'' he said of the rescue workers. ''It's just a way to say we're thinking of them. It's our salute. We really don't deserve to wear them.''

Ripken, one of the sport's best ambassadors, said he'd do his best to entertain fans.

''Certainly, I'm not so gung-ho inside about baseball,'' the Baltimore star said before an 8-5 loss at Toronto.

''When I think of baseball in the context of what's going on it does seem very insignificant,'' he said. ''I haven't gotten really motivated to play at this point, but we all should take great pride that we can be a small distraction, a small opportunity to smile and get away from what's going on.''

At Jacobs Field, members of Cleveland's fire, police and emergency response departments threw opening pitches to catcher Eddie Taubensee, who wore a firefighter's helmet.

In a message shown on the scoreboard, Travis Fryman thanked Indians fans for their support and asked them to pray for the attack victims. Fryman then hit a grand slam in an 11-2 win over Kansas City.

Boston catcher Scott Hatteberg hoped the games would provide some relief.

''This is going to be helpful for a lot of people. Everybody needs a break. I know I need a break,'' he said before the Red Sox played Tampa Bay.

''Baseball, as goofy as it sounds, is going to be part of the healing process. By doing this, I think we're helping out.''

Minnesota pitcher Bob Wells was glad to have a diversion.

''There's a lot of things in the mental part of baseball that most people don't think about. It takes up a lot of space in your head,'' he said before the game with Detroit at the Metrodome.

''I don't think anybody had any fun last week,'' he said.

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