On Baseball & History: Osama Edition

Every generation has these moments, the ones that stay with you and that you’ll remember for the rest of your days -- for better or for worse. The “where were you when it happened” moments.

Sunday night, I had the third or fourth one of those moments in my lifetime -- and for the first time -- it’s a moment that I’m not going to mind recanting in 20 years while chatting up friends and complete strangers about the night that baseball stopped being baseball for a couple hours thanks to the news of the death of Osama Bin Laden.

At first, it seems strange that I’m trying to connect baseball with what happened Sunday. Surely, an event that has implications that are so far reaching and infinitely more important with a level of such profundity that is far greater than anything that could ever occur on the baseball game deserves a spot in history on its own merit, and not as a footnote in the box score of a memory.

But, in a way, it makes sense. After all, baseball is America’s pastime, something that has been enjoyed and shared by families and friends and total strangers for some 100 plus years. So the logic follows that we would try to find a connection between baseball -- for which many of us wear our hearts on our sleeves -- and what happened on Sunday night -- something that will forever resonate with us all, some ten years after there was no baseball for a few days following the events of 9/11 -- forming an emotional bookend that can finally, in a way, offer a sense of closure, even though the real end is not now, and may never be, in sight.

It reminds me of that first baseball game in New York City following the attacks, when President George W. Bush, clad in a FDNY fleece, threw a strike to Derek Jeter to signify to all of us that it was OK to enjoy a thing that -- in the grand scheme of things -- is trivial and superfluous.

At that moment, everyone in New York, and around the country, was not so much a baseball fan, but a fan of humanity and of the human spirit. That voice in our heads and our hearts that tells us to keep going despite seemingly insurmountable odds. It would have been easy to throw in the towel. No one would have blamed us but that’s not America.

It’s fitting that the announcement of the demise of Bin Laden -- who a decade ago started this mess -- came during a baseball game, albeit one that was without fanfare and pomp and circumstance. It was just a regular baseball game to most of us, the complete and utter opposite of that one from nearly a decade ago.

That changed in the eighth inning, when chatter of the news and of President Barack Obama’s announcement began to make its way around the stadium. One seat, one row, one section at a time did the fans -- who were only moments ago deaf to the news that the rest of us at home were still trying to process -- realize the gravity of the situation.

And then it happened. That surge of humanity and the triumph of spirit, as chants of “U.S.A., U.S.A.” broke out. It’s certainly appropriate that this happened in Philadelphia -- the birthplace of freedom -- and in a game between a team from Pennsylvania and a team from New York.

It was perfect.

In that moment, and the moments following, it was no longer about baseball. It was about something else, something greater than all of us. Unity, or pride, or hope. Something like that. And for the first time in a while, I watched the final five or six innings of a Phillies’ game, not caring about whether or not they won.

It was, in that moment, just a game.

And tonight, or tomorrow, it will go back to being more than a game. And that’s good. We need things like baseball to be around for us to assign an emotional value to, so that we can avoid a life that is nothing but going through the motions.

But you know something? It was nice to see us all just turn it off, if only for a few fleeting moments. And years from now, when I’m chatting up a stranger or a friend at the baseball stadium, we can talk about how -- for a couple hours -- a baseball game was about more than just baseball.

And I’ll smile.

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