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Cubs will feel a wave of emotions in NY on 911

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Cubs will feel a wave of emotions in NY on 911

Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011Posted: 6:24 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney Sox Drawer: The White Sox on 911

Alfonso Soriano woke up that morning and turned on the television. He wondered what movie it was before changing to a different channel. He kept flipping and everywhere he saw the same haunting images of the Twin Towers.

Soriano checked his phone and noticed he had about 20 messages, friends wondering if he was all right and the team telling him that there would be no game that night.

Soriano lived in northern New Jersey, not far from the George Washington Bridge that would lead him into Yankee Stadium. From his place, you could look out the window and get sweeping views of New York.

Soriano loved the bright lights of the city, the big bounce and extra energy youd get from New York. The strong Dominican community there made him feel comfortable. Soon everyone would essentially look the same. Scared. Confused. Lost.

Soriano was a 25-year-old rookie, surrounded by his mother and two brothers. Against a bright blue sky, he could see the smoke rising from a skyline that would never look the same again.

Two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center.

In the fall of 2001, the New York Yankees would become Americas Team. The emotions and adrenaline from Sept. 11 would fuel their run to the World Series. Ten years later, Soriano recalled the urgency inside the clubhouse.

We got to give something to the city.

Zombies

The Atlanta Braves were the first team into New York after 911. Chipper Jones remembers walking a few blocks around the team hotel, unsure what he was doing there.

It was like 1,000-yard stares everywhere, Jones recalled. Everybody was still just kind of dumbfounded. Everybody was kind of walking around like zombies. We (all had) the same look: Amazement as to how this could have happened.

The Beatles, the World Series and Pope John Paul II had all played Shea Stadium. It quickly became a relief center, the gate areas and parking lots filling with food and supplies. On Sept. 21, it hosted the citys first sporting event since the terrorist attacks.

The New York Mets wore hats honoring the citys real heroes NYPD, FDNY, PAPD, EMS.

I think I could speak for everybody in my clubhouse, Jones said. We didnt want to be there. We didnt want to be playing baseball at that particular time. I think most guys would tell you if they had a choice, they would want to go enlist and go kick some ass.

We were pissed off and we were mad and we were angry. And the last thing we wanted to do was to be playing baseball. But it was our job. (Maybe) baseball, for some people, was the first step towards trying to rebuild things (and) trying to get that sense of normalcy back.

Witnesses

Jeff Baker was sitting in a nutrition class at Clemson University when he heard the first fragments of news. You might remember where you were when President Kennedy was shot. Another generation lived through Pearl Harbor. This was one of those moments youll never forget.

Baker was born in West Germany and moved all around the world following his father, Larry, a former U.S. Army colonel and West Point professor. While stationed in Dubai, Baker would stay at home with his mother inside their villa while his dad went out into the 110-degree heat to install missile-defense systems.

On 911, Baker was able to quickly reach his father, who still had security clearance at the Pentagon, but had rotated back to an assignment at the Defense Nuclear Agency, where he served during Operation Desert Storm.

Baker had a teammate on the Clemson baseball team whose father also worked at the Pentagon, on the side of the building where the 757 hit. Baker watched the concern on his face as he struggled to reach his father and the relief when they finally made contact.

Thousands lost parents who wouldnt be able to watch their kids grow up, leaving empty seats at baseball games, graduations and weddings.

The Cubs utility man understands the sacrifices that have been made in the 10 years since. He knows there will be an electricity in the air before the Cubs play the Mets on Sunday night at Citi Field.

(Its) remembering and rejoicing (and) celebrating their lives, Baker said. (Its) not only the people (who) paid the ultimate price and gave up their life. (Its) the firefighters, the families, the policemen, everybody, the whole city of New York. For such a tragic event, the way they handled themselves afterward is pretty remarkable.

Im not sure if any other city in the world could do it.

Targets

As Jones ran out to left field the night of Sept. 21, he picked up a few cartridges that had fallen to the ground during the 21-gun salute at Shea Stadium. He still has them to this day.

It was scary, Jones said. I think we were all a little leery of being back in town so close to 911, just because its so close to LaGuardia (Airport). A major-league ballpark would be you would think a prime target with so many people being in one spot. It was probably my most vivid memory of any game that Ive ever played in.

Jones is 39 years old now, a seven-time All-Star whos won a World Series ring and been part of 20 postseason series. In the bottom of the eighth inning, the 41,275 fans in Flushing watched Mike Piazza smash the go-ahead, two-run homer that lifted the Mets to a 3-2 win over the Braves.

It was divine intervention, Jones said of Piazzas shot. We all took it upon ourselves to help do our part. And part of it was entertaining the people of New York and people all over America for three hours. That was our job, trying to return some little piece of normalcy to everyday life.

Honestly, it was the first time Ive played in that stadium where I got more thank yous than boos. It was just a really kind of humbling experience.

Heroes

After landing in New York with a 2-0 World Series lead, Arizona Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly and a group of around 30 players, coaches and front-office staffers visited the rescue workers at Ground Zero.

(It was only a) couple hours we spent there, Brenly recalled. (But) I still have mental scars from what I saw and what I heard that day. For people who had loved ones that were there or people who had rescue workers that were going down there every day they definitely needed something to take their mind off what was going on.

Brenly, the Cubs television analyst, remembers President Bush standing on the mound at Yankee Stadium with his chest out and his chin up, throwing a first-pitch strike before Game 3.

The rest was a blur: The Yankees winning three straight one-run games, one in 10 innings, another in 12. The Diamondbacks coming back in the bottom of the ninth inning against the great Mariano Rivera to win it all in Game 7.

Ive never experienced anything quite like it at a ballpark, Brenly said. Baseballs a distraction. Its entertainment. We take it way too seriously. But at that particular time, the country needed something like that.

A decade later, baseball in New York will be a way to snap out of the distraction, a needed reminder of what was lost, and what should never be forgotten.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Theo Epstein answered questions from the Chicago media for more than an hour on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, but the most interesting part might have been what the Cubs president didn’t say, something along the lines of: These are our guys.

Or at least Epstein didn’t give the same full-throated endorsement of The Core that he delivered after engineering the Jose Quintana trade with the White Sox this summer, getting an All-Star pitcher without giving up anyone from the big-league roster.

Whether it’s the way the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs throughout the National League Championship Series that ended Thursday night, the inconsistencies and frustrations during a 43-45 first half of this season or the reality of losing 40 percent of the rotation, you walked out of that stadium club press conference thinking big changes could be coming.

“We’re going to pursue all avenues to get better,” Epstein said.

The Cubs already understood this would be a challenging time to dramatically reshape their pitching staff, with Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, Big Boy John Lackey and All-Star closer Wade Davis about to become free agents.

The Cubs don’t really have many (any?) high-end, headliner prospects left to trade after borrowing heavily from their farm system to acquire Aroldis Chapman for last year’s World Series run and get Quintana to help solidify the rotation through 2020.

All of Major League Baseball is looking beyond this winter and preparing for the monster free-agent class that will hit the open market after the 2018 season.

Meaning it’s time for the Cubs to make some difficult decisions about all these young hitters they’ve collected.

“It may or may not be,” Epstein said. “Those choices, they’re not unilateral things. You can’t sit there and decide: ‘Hey, this guy, we’re moving him.’ Because you don’t know what the return might be. You don’t know how the different moving parts might fit together.

“I think going into the offseason prepared to make some tough choices and execute on them — and keeping an open mind to anything — is appropriate under the circumstances where we have some obvious deficits and we have some real surplus with talented players who are really desirable.”

Let’s assume All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, MVP third baseman Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras are essentially untouchable.

The Cubs used the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft on Ian Happ with the explicit idea that the college hitter should be on a fast track and could be flipped for pitching later: Is it time to sell high after the rookie just put up 24 homers and an .842 OPS?

During an exit meeting with Albert Almora Jr., Epstein said he couldn’t promise an everyday job in 2018, though the expectation would be more responsibilities: Think anyone else would be interested in a potential Gold Glove center fielder who’s already playoff-tested?

Do you want Addison Russell or Javier Baez as your everyday shortstop for the next four years? Is there an American League team willing to bet big that Kyle Schwarber will crush 40 homers a year as a designated hitter?

The Cubs have to ask themselves those types of questions, which could mean getting outside of their comfort zone and taking on some riskier pitching investments and sapping the strength that has turned them into the dominant force in the NL Central.

“We’ve really benefitted from having two or three extra — and ‘extra’ in quotes because they’re not really extra — starting-caliber players on the roster,” Epstein said. “That helped us win 97 games in ’15, 103 last year, 92 this year. That’s as big a part of the club as anything.

“Having an Addison Russell go down and being able to move Javy Baez to shortstop — that’s an obvious example of it. But those things show up every week for us. There’s a day where someone can’t make the lineup and someone else slides in and you’re still starting eight quality guys. That’s huge.

“Sooner or later, you reach a point where you have to strongly consider sacrificing some of that depth to address needs elsewhere on the club. There’s no sort of deadline to do that. But I think we’re entering the phase where we have to be really open-minded to that if it makes the overall outlook of the team and organization better.”

Translation: The Cubs are open for business. Make your best offer.

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

In the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull, Patrick Mooney and Tony Andracki close the book on the 2017 season following Theo Epstein’s press conference, looking back at what will go down as the craziest calendar year in Cubs history from last November through the team’s loss in the NLCS this October.

Moving forward, where do guys like Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Justin Wilson and Mike Montgomery fit? Will the Cubs re-sign Wade Davis or go after another proven closer? And how worried should fans be about the offense that completely disappeared in the postseason?

Take a listen below: