There are three distinct memories when it comes to President George Bush and Sept. 11.
One is of Bush sitting at that classroom of a Florida elementary school and getting the news whispered in his ear, from his Chief of Staff Andy Card that “We were under attack” after a second plane had hit the World Trade Center.
The second was three days later, standing on the pile of rubble at Ground Zero, declaring, in his bullhorn speech, a national day of mourning and remembrance before saying “The people who knocked these buildings down will hear from us all real soon.”
And, of course, there is the image of the President throwing out the first pitch on Oct. 30, 2001, before Game 3 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium.
While American sports had pretty much gotten back to normal by the time President Bush threw out the first pitch seven weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, that night in the Bronx was extra meaningful.
That was when we realized, again, the positive role sports can play in our lives.
Sports have long claimed a leading position in American life and this moment, the World Series, and the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, was a like a crescendo in terms of healing.
There are always questions, or really concerns, about our sporting events after major tragedies or pain events.
Should they go on as planned? If not now, when?
President Bush had planned the trip to Manhattan in late October to visit Ground Zero when the opportunity arose for the “first pitch.”
This was not President Bush’s first rodeo with baseball and first pitches. He was the managing general partner of the Texas Rangers, assembling investors within a year of his father’s winning presidential bid in 1988 over Michael Dukakis, a successful campaign the future President directed.
It was President Bush’s first-ever World Series game. He had previously vowed “I’d never go to a World Series until the Rangers are in it.”
This was an extenuating circumstance. This was on one of sport’s biggest stages and arguably one of the most electric cities in the world.
But President Bush soon found out this wasn’t going to be a first pitch, something he had successfully pulled off several times before. Then-Yankees superstar Derek Jeter changed that when he ran into the then-Commander-in-Chief warming up in the underground batting cage.
Jeter asked him if he was going to throw the pitch from mound or in front of the mound, to which President Bush said, “I think I’ll throw from the base of the mount.”
Jeter said “I wouldn’t do that if were you. You better throw it from the mound or you’re gonna get booed. This is Yankee Stadium.”
President Bush agreed and said he’d throw it from the mound, like the pros do.
As Jeter left he turned around and looked back at man of the hour and said, “And don’t bounce it. They’ll boo ya.”
President Bush said he went from unexpectedly calm and loose to very nervous, noting “All of sudden, the pressure mounted.”
As President Bush approached the mound in an “FDNY” pullover with a bulletproof vest underneath – as police and Secret Service were extremely heightened on the day of his visit to the city – he was greeted with roaring applause as the World Series fans chanted "USA! USA! USA!"
Sort of a “We got this” moment.
President Bush recalled thinking, “I never felt that raw emotion of the Yankee fans.”
As he stood on the rubber, President Bush raised his right arm and gave a big thumbs up to the fans as the chants got louder and louder.
Then came the pitch. A perfect strike.
Really, the perfect first pitch.
Afterward, President Bush noted, “United we stand; we stand together in the face of this threat. We will play baseball in the midst of the beginnings of this war, no matter what the threat may be to us. The United States of America will stand strong and never be intimidated.”
While sports has been put through the meat grinder over the 18 months, particularly its role in social change, with athletes taking on a bigger voice, right or wrong, sports is more than a game.
We realized that more than 20 or so years ago, when sports really came through in the clutch.
You can email Bill Burt at firstname.lastname@example.org.