When you're a child of the game, you never forget your greatest seats.
I'm not sure how I ended up in the rarefied air on this day; previously, I'd always been an upper deck, behind home plate kid. Many of my Yankee Stadium pilgrimages were premeditated, but not in a "season tickets" kind of way. Prior to the emergence of the secondary market, you'd drive down the previous fall, concourse flecked by dying leaves, and knock on the ticket office window. Someone was always there. After all, it was always baseball season in New York. You'd select a few low-dollar games, hem and haw about maybe trying to find a way to get in to see the Red Sox this year, and then mark "6/13, Baltimore" on your calendar and pray it didn't rain in nine months.
Once, I'd sat 15 rows behind the dugout because a father of a friend had corporate seats. Jason Giambi, then of the Oakland A's, flipped a ball to the sort of privileged kid who sat 15 rows closer. He turned around, bored by the sheer number of baseballs he'd already been gifted by the world, and tossed it backwards. I grabbed it, happy to take the runoff of the wealthy.
But this game, 9/10/2001, was going to be my all-time greatest score.
I had seats 10 rows behind home plate. To see the Red Sox. To see Roger Clemens chasing 20 wins. I'm not sure how I did it. This wasn't a price we usually paid, wasn't a gift we usually received. But, stuck in my first week of sixth grade, considering myself ready for the changes ahead, but in stark reality still an elementary school cartoon of hyperactivity, I was giddy beyond recognition. Usually a stalwart student who considered the integrity of the classroom first and foremost (I was...not popular!), I spent seven hours buzzing, maintaining a complete absence of focus. I remember specifically sitting in Technology Class, a catch-all term that was essentially shop, and a course at which I was abjectly terrible, checking the clock on the wall every eight seconds to make sure time was, indeed, still ticking.
When it finally passed 3:00, I raced out the double doors, through a field of fellow insecure youngsters I had zero interest in talking to, and hopped in the back seat. Three hours later, I was settling into the one place I felt calm, from an unfamiliar vantage point. The threat of rain loomed above.
The skies were dark, and I locked immediately into my normal childhood routine of examining the clouds for any lingering breaks. If I could spot blue sky, or even a lighter patch of gray, I could manufacture belief that the dam would hold and the game would be played. On this evening, the air was mostly dark. At that point, I turned to plan B: blind faith. The weather will hold. We'll be fine. We have a game to win.
The Yankees made us wait. With the field still empty and the clock long ago having ticked past the intended start time, I sat under still ominous skies. These were the type of seats you could order a turkey sandwich from, so therefore, I had done just that. Suddenly, there was a flurry of commotion by the dugout, a form of activity with which I was quite familiar. Fans were exchanging pens and programs with a wayward, reaching hand, their items soon returned with a newfound signature. I raced to the dugout's edge, my sharpie and magazine outstretched. After patiently waiting for a few minutes, I was chosen; my book was stolen, and I awaited learning which hero was about to add value to my experience. Then came the rain. Buckets. Pouring, a wayward wall. My sopping wet program was handed back to me, and the hand disappeared. There was no way to play. Game over.
I sobbed all the way home. It wasn't fair.
But in a matter of hours, the previously-established "fairness" scale was muted. Tattered. Destroyed. Gone.
I spent the next day much like everyone else. Hushed announcements over the PA system, a room full of soon-to-be-damaged children making immature gaffes and uneducated guesses, far from ready for a smoke-filled month that would eventually unveil just how widespread this tragedy really was. Everybody knew somebody. Everybody knew seven or eight somebodies. Everybody knew somebody still searching, holding out hope for a miracle recovery that just wasn't coming.
But then, in the weeks later, a strange thing happened. A singular tragedy that should've rendered sports insignificant somehow imbued them with more meaning than they'd had the previous evening. The Yankees were healers, in the literal sense, sent to deliver supplies, support, and the wide-eyed wonder of celebrity to grieving families. But, of course, they also healed on the field, uniting a nation around their pursuit of the eternal, unveiling last-at-bat heroics straight out of a rejected "Captain America" storyline.
I watched from home. I didn't much want to be in the city anymore. I had far less bravery than the men I worshipped.
But when I think of that fall, I think of a nation hushed, and a young boy who went from his greatest high, to a tearful low, to a lesson in how things can become unspeakable in a very short time.