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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.

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”