Television Reviews

Nine Innings From Ground Zero – Baseball Helps a City Heal

The New York Yankees are a baseball team that evokes strong emotions from both their fans and fans of the opposing teams. Often billed as the most hated team in baseball, the nation’s attitude toward the boys from the Bronx seemed to soften a bit in the weeks following 9/11. Once baseball resumed and the team edged closer and closer to the post-season, many people found themselves rooting for a team they never would have just a few weeks before.

Produced by HBO, Nine Innings from Ground Zero details how the game of baseball helped a city and a nation move on after those terrible events. It sets the Arizona Diamondbacks defeating the New York Yankees in the World Series against the backdrop of what was happening in New York City at the former site of the World Trade Center at the same time.

The events of 9/11 are shown although not dwelt upon. Instead, Nine Innings from Ground Zero focuses more on how the New York baseball teams paused for a while to do what they could. It shows the staging area for relief supplies at Shea Stadium and members of the NY Mets pitching in to sort and distribute them. The Yankees together with their manager Joe Torre made a goodwill trip to where families had gathered in the armory to wait for news of loved ones still missing.

The first major league game played after the September 11th attacks was at Shea Stadium between the Mets and Braves. Now, for anyone who hasn’t spent time at Shea Stadium, it’s directly in the flight path for flights taking off from LaGuardia Airport. The planes flying overhead at this time were not just a minor annoyance. It was a constant reminder of what had just happened in the City. It’s Mike Piazza’s home run in the bottom of the eighth inning that really seemed to bring the somber mood of mourning out of the crowd and perhaps sent the City back on the road of recovery.

The Yankees won their division that year. It was a much-needed diversion from what was going on in New York City as the clean-up of the area and recovery of bodies continued. This was also the time when bombs began falling in Afghanistan. Once the Yankees are in the World Series, it was hard for the Arizona Diamondback players. Usually, trash talk is part of the game. Now, they had to restrain themselves. In light of the events of September 11th, the almost-always hated New York Yankees had pretty much turned into America’s team. Once hated almost universally outside of their own enclave, the Yankees had people across the country rooting for them.

The documentary makes good use of clips and interviews. Players remember what happened and what it felt like at the time as well as discussing the events that took place on the field. Fans talk about how much it meant to them to watch the team and have something to cheer for in the midst of all their sadness. Particularly poignant are the children who lost a parent and who found solace in rooting for their team and some pleasure in meeting players they had admired for years from afar. Other relatives talk about knowing how those they lost would have felt to be at the games. Attending them allowed those who were mourning feel like they were doing something for those who had passed on; as if they were standing in place and going to the games for those who could not be there.

However, for many the World Series of 2001 did not end the way the fairy tale should have. The Diamondback beat the Yankees, and many felt like the rug had been pulled out from under them once again.

Nine Innings from Ground Zero is designed to tug at the viewer’s emotions and it does it very well. At a time when so many years have passed since those events that numerous films and too many documentaries to count have been produced, it’s often hard to imagine one that really shows anything different than what we’ve heard before. This takes a bit of a different tactic. It feels a lot like many other sports documentaries I’ve seen, while at the same time bringing baseball back to the human element as it reflects the emotions of those who lost someone on that terrible day.

One thing that is not touched on is that not all New Yorkers were rooting for the Yankees or were sorry that they lost. In the eyes of many Mets fans, who have long felt like the miscreant younger brother to the perfect older one, one more win “just when the City needed it” would have only added to the insufferability of the Yankees and their fans. And for us, the fact that we could sit in a bar together and hate the Yankees once again, rejoicing in their faltering, meant the world was going to be okay once again.