Major-leaguers return to work

Associated Press

Less than a week after the events that changed America and the world, baseball told teams they've got a job to do: Play, and make the games seem as if they matter again.

When major-league ball returns today, the standings and statistics will be exactly as they were. Barry Bonds is still chasing Mark McGwire's home run record and more than a dozen teams are still in pennant chases.

But will anyone watch, will anyone care?

"They asked me a few days ago when I thought we should play again," Minnesota first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz said. "I said spring training."

Instead, with U.S. flags on players' caps and uniforms, fans wearing the Stars and Stripes and "God Bless America" set to replace "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch, the games will go on.

As they should.

"It is important for America to get on about its life," said President Bush, the former co-owner of the Texas Rangers.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra will keep performing. The New York City Opera will continue singing. Hollywood actors will go on making movies.

So the ballplayers will return, too, as will athletes in all pro and college sports in the coming days.

And the crowds at Dodger Stadium, Veterans Stadium and Coors Field will cheer, although maybe not as loudly as before.

No lack of respect there. Ballgames won't mean any less, only now other things mean a whole lot more.

The national pastime has tried to help heal the nation in the past. During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt urged the sport to keep going, saying it would boost the country's morale and mend part of its torn fabric.

In 1989, an earthquake interrupted the World Series between the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants. Arizona third baseman Matt Williams was playing for the Giants during that crisis.

"The initial concern for everybody was first of all trying to find people alive on the highway, fires downtown and stuff like that, making sure everybody was safe. That was priority No. 1, and it has to be," he said.

St. Louis manager Tony La Russa was guiding the Athletics to a championship that October. During the delay, he tried to keep his team focused.

"That team was peaking. I worried about it," he said. "The only thing we did was just give them an opportunity to work."

At Veterans Stadium, Atlanta will play Philadelphia in a key National League East series. Braves pitcher Greg Maddux expects he'll be ready tonight.

"It's weird. I can't really explain it. You go out there, they hand you a brand new ball and everything changes," he said. "That's one of the beauties of the game. Once the game starts, you're able to forget about everything else."

Travis Fryman had no trouble recapturing his intensity.

During an intrasquad game this weekend at Jacobs Field, the Cleveland star took a called third strike from John Rocker. Fryman argued, and then threw his batting helmet from the dugout at the plate umpire - who happened to be head groundskeeper Brandon Koehnke.

Later, Fryman apologized.

For others, it will be incredibly difficult.

New York Yankees left fielder Chuck Knoblauch watched the World Trade Center towers crumble from his apartment window.

Minnesota DH David Ortiz heard the crash through his telephone while talking with a friend.

Houston second baseman Craig Biggio counseled his brother, an air traffic controller, who handled one of the doomed flights.

"There are probably players in their minds who, even though they are compensated very well, are just for bagging the season," Chicago Cubs manager Don Baylor said. "If you are a human being and American, I'm sure guys don't think this is as important as it was."

Randy Johnson, baseball's most intimidating pitcher, said he might have trouble tonight when he starts for Arizona at Coors Field in Denver.

"We might physically be there, but mentally our minds might possibly be elsewhere, and that's understandable," he said.

St. Louis pitcher Steve Kline said: "We're still trying to win something, even though it seems shameless and useless."

At Yankee Stadium this weekend, the team gathered on one knee at the pitcher's mound, heads bowed. Two employees in the Yankees' ticket office lost sons in Tuesday's attacks.

At Shea Stadium, vehicles with supplies for the relief effort gathered in the parking lot while the New York Mets worked out inside.

Tonight, the Mets will play the Pirates. Originally scheduled for Shea, the whole series was shifted to PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

The Yankees' first game back in the Bronx will be next week against Tampa Bay. Devil Rays pitcher Tanyon Sturtze is not looking forward to that flight into New York.

"My shades will be down," he said. "I won't be looking at anything."

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