As the violent, awful images and events of 9/11 start to fade into memory, there is an effort to make sure America doesn't forget. Don't forget the victims, but also don't forget the heroes of that day. No two groups better embody the heroes on that day than the New York Fire Department and the New York Police Department. While all of Manhattan was being turned upside down, they were charged with rescuing stability out chaos, people out of buildings. They were the front line. Both departments suffered on that day, perhaps none more than the fire department who lost so many men in the collapsing buildings.
The New York City police department and fire department both have baseball teams. They've been playing each other on and off for over 100 years. But in 1999 the series was renewed with vigor, and they've played each other every year since. When 9/11 happened in 2001, the series was changed forever. It took on a new meaning, a new importance, a new symbolism - it was raised to a whole new level. The first year after 9/11, the game, which had previously taken place in small parks with barely anyone watching, was elevated.
The following season, 2002, was a critical year for the team, and helped make the rivalry with the cops what it is today. Before 9/11, the NYPD-FDNY contests were small affairs, played at local colleges in front of practically no one - not even the players' families showed up. But after 9/11, the game took off, its symbolic value in the still healing city resonating with the public. Representatives from MCU Park in Coney Island, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, a Class-A Mets affiliate, offered to host the game at the 7,500-seat minor-league ballpark. Members of both squads made television appearances to help promote the contest, including one high-profile spot on "Good Morning America." Tickets were sold and the proceeds were donated to police and fire related charities.
The city of New York reached out its heroes to say thank you, and to appreciate the healing and camaraderie that can be brought about through a sporting event. That still goes on today, 12 years later. The crowds aren't quite as big as they once were, but for the guys who play in the game, the Finest (NYPD) and the Bravest (NYFD), there is nothing quite like the game.
One of the joys the men on the NYPD and FDNY baseball teams get out of participating in the Classic is that for one night they get to feel like big leaguers. They get to play in front of a crowd in a ballpark with fences with vendors selling hot dogs and beer. Their names are called over the public address system while their pictures are put up on the big screen. And, most flattering of all, they get asked for their autographs.
On assignment from SB Nation, author Joe DePaolo chronicled the last game they played. It's a great story on two levels. First, you get a look at some of the men who participate in the game. Their lives, their loves, and their dedication. They are truly what service is all about. But on a second level, you get a story about a game, a real sporting contest that both teams care deeply about winning. This is not the Sunday softball beer league. Many of the players are former college stars who have professional experience in their past. And they get after it. DePaolo chronicles the game to it's final outcome and it's a riveting read. You find yourself wanting to know the outcome, you care about who wins. You might even develop a rooting interest along the way.
It's a fantastic read, so head on over and spend a little time getting to know these guys. Many of them were there on 9/11, and they're still there today. They deserve our recognition.