It is the second week of September, and I am feeling great. I am having the best season of my career. The one thing about having thousands of professional at-bats under your belt is that you can feel when you are on, and when you are about to REALLY be on. I could feel it. I was about to REALLY BE ON!
September 9th, 2001
We have a day game in Anaheim. It is a getaway day as we are leaving as soon as the game ends. We beat the Angels, and I am 1 for 4 on the day. I know the stat line doesn’t look that good, but trust me I am banging. I am hitting everything hard, and I am FEELING IT! After the game, we get on the plane and fly to Detroit. I couldn’t wait to get to Detroit, because I am about to go rock it on the Tigers.
September 10th, 2001
We have a Monday night game in Detroit. You see, I have a routine in every city we play in. It revolves around food. Day one in Detroit was soul food day. Fried fish, oxtails, red beans, rice, fried chicken, all finished off with peach cobbler. You might think that is a lot of food, and you are right. I killed it. Soul food locks me in. As Tony Oliva says, “I maka da ball cry.” We win, and I am 2 for 4 with a triple off the wall and a hard hit single. I can’t wait until tomorrow, because I know I am going to get a couple of home runs. Like I said, I could feel it. There is no doubt in my mind I am going to hit .300 with 30 home runs and 100 RBI’s in 2001.
September 11th, 2001
The day the world stopped. After flying across the country, I would be a little sore the second day, or maybe it was because of the five pounds of soul food I ate the day before. I would set up a massage early in the morning, so I could sleep on the table. This day was no exception. I had an 8:30 a.m. appointment.
At about 8:55 a.m., my phone starts blowing up.
RING…. RING…. RING…. One phone call at 8:55 a.m. on a Tuesday is a bit weird for me. I don’t usually get that many calls early in the morning on the road.
RING…. RING…. RING….. again. “Ok, that is weird,” I think.
RING…. RING…. RING….. “Ok, what is going on?” I am starting to get concerned.
I asked the therapist to grab my phone.
RING…. RING…. RING….. It is my wife. Now, I was nervous about answering. She called four times in a row, and she knew I was getting a massage.
I have a moment of panic. I hope everybody is ok!
“Hello?” I answer cautiously.
“Turn on your the TV!!!!” my wife blurts out.
“WHAT?” I am confused.
“Turn on your the TV!!!!” she says again.
I turned on the TV, and what I saw is absolutely horrifying.
I just couldn’t believe it. I asked my wife a bunch of questions, but she had no idea what is going on either. The massage therapist leaves, and I was glued to the TV. What is going on? This is scary.
Then at 9:03 a.m., I watched in horror as plane two struck the second tower.
This image will be forever burned in my mind. I started to panic. What the heck is going on? How many attacks will there be? Was something going to happen here? What if mass chaos breaks out? I started to freak out. I am stuck in a hotel in Dearborn, Michigan, with no way to get anywhere. So what did I do? I took a taxi and rented a car, because if I needed to get out of dodge quickly, I could. My family was 700 miles away. It was freaky when I returned to the hotel. We had multiple guards with fully automatic weapons stationed outside. Nobody knew what was going on, and there was concern that we were in Dearborn, Michigan.
I got back up to my room, and turned on the TV. I sat there for the rest of the day. Sadness, anger, fear, anxiety and confusion overwhelmed me throughout the day.
Our game got canceled. I just wanted to go home and be with my family, but the airports were shut down.
Our next game got canceled. The team scheduled a practice for Thursday morning at the stadium, but my heart was just not in it. I felt stuck, and I just wanted to get home to be with my family.
Major League Baseball decided to cancel the games through the weekend, so the Twins rented a bus to drive us back to Minnesota. When we finally got home, I hugged my family. I couldn’t help but think about all of the families on the morning of September 11th. That was the last time they got to hug their loved ones.
To be frank, I didn’t want to play baseball anymore. Why should I play something that I love, when so many people are hurting? Why should I enjoy, when there is so much pain and sadness? Where was God? Why does a loving God allow this to happen?
September 18, 2001
We went back to work. We were home against the Tigers. I really struggled with going back to baseball that day. Driving to the Metrodome was a surreal experience. It was like my mind was on cruise control. I left the house, and the next thing I knew I was parking my car.
As I walked into the Metrodome, there was a level of excitement with the employees. I was confused by this. Didn’t they know what happened last week? How could they be like this? Then, I walked into the clubhouse. There was a different feel in there. It was a sense of normalcy, and I had a sense of comfort.
The ceremony before the game was tough. The sadness felt by everybody in the stadium was evident.
The first pitch of the game was at 7:06 p.m. The crowd erupted. It was like there was a sense of relief after that first pitch was thrown. What I felt was, “Baseball is back, and we will get through this.”
My first at-bat of the game, I hit a home run. That jog around the bases was different. The cheers seemed different. It was almost like the emotion of joy was locked in a starters gate, and with that home run, the the gate flung open to allow joy to come out once again.
After the game, I reflected on that moment. I needed that game. I think all the fans needed that game. I think Minnesota needed that game. And, I think the United States needed baseball. It was at that moment, I realized how important sports and baseball are to our society. Sports are a needed break from life, where we can just play or watch others play.
What I Learned as an Athlete
Sports transcend all boundaries. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you look like. If we are wearing the same uniform, we are connected.
Why did a loving God allow this to happen? My short answer is, I don’t know. Where was God during this time? I have dealt with death of people close to me, and it hurts. I have screamed out to God. WHY!!?? Anger and sadness overwhelmed me as I sat in a room next to my friends who wailed over the loss of their son.
What I do know is, God and Jesus were there to comfort me through this time. God was present in the midst of evil. The heart of Jesus was in every first responder as they ran up the stairs, willing to sacrifice their life for another. The heart of Jesus was in my friend’s son, as he dove into the water willing to sacrifice his life for his friends. It hurts when the people we love move on to a place without suffering, pain, and full of love. I felt the heart of Jesus in the hugs of the community as they surrounded my friends. I saw the heart of Jesus in the community, as they sacrificed their time to comfort and lift up my friends. Finally, I saw heart of Jesus in the United States as we came together in grief. We loved and supported one another no matter who we were or what we looked like. We were all wearing the same red, white, and blue jersey. We were one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Hug like you mean it. We are all in this together. We need each other to get through this thing called life.