I am a firm believer in sports as a microcosm of life. You find something you love. You try your best. You will have success. And you will experience failure. You’ll have opponents, and you’ll have teammates. Sometimes, you’ll face challenges on your own, too.
Like life, the triumph isn’t in the victory. It’s in the trying. It’s in the journey. It’s in learning the lesson and moving on, to be a better player, a better person, the next day.
This microcosm—this little world within a world that we’ve created in our lives, also has the most magnificent ability to heal us in times of immense grief and struggle. We come together as a family of fans and bond over its immense capacity for building hope. Sports are what give us our most epic stories about overcoming adversity. There’s a winner and a loser and an end to the battle. And then we begin again.
I was thinking all these things this morning as I watched ESPN’s 30 for 30 short, First Pitch. In a post-9/11 New York City, George W. Bush visits Yankee Stadium for the third game of the 2001 World Series, and he throws out the first pitch in front of a raucous crowd of overwhelmed, embattled, patriotic New Yorkers.
It was one pitch. But there was so much behind it.
New York was only weeks past the World Trade Center attacks. The country as a whole was on high alert. We knew the enemy. We were hesitant to go back to our stadiums to enjoy the things we loved so much before our worlds changed forever. But baseball in New York became the comfort zone. The city found something it could rally around that was a departure from what had happened only a few miles south of the Bronx. By continuing into the playoffs, and eventually into the World Series, the Yankees did their due diligence in making New Yorkers smile again—if only for nine innings.
Regardless of what anyone may think about George W. Bush’s presidency, the job he was asked to do after the towers fell is only akin to the times of Washington, Lincoln, FDR, and the Kennedy/Johnson era. The events were unprecedented, and Bush put on a brave face. As a president, he was masterful in giving the people of New York hope. And he did it through very simple means.
That’s why I find First Pitch so extraordinary. It covers the nerves behind throwing out a first pitch, even on any normal day; the tension-filled months in the fall of 2001, when all of us were afraid of another attack; the unknown, and the necessity to rise to the occasion.
It was one pitch, but it proved that Americans don’t need heroes. We need regular people doing regular things heroically. We need men and women who stand up when it would be safer to sit down. We need those who succeed in pressure situations. We need people to say, in whatever way they can, “this is a bad time, but we’re still going to win.”
George W. Bush threw a pitch from the mound, in Yankee Stadium, during the third game of the World Series, watched by a packed house (and even more on television), wearing a bulletproof vest, surrounded by Secret Service, with no assurance that he wasn’t going to get killed that night. His pitch was a strike. In those fall months, and on that night, Bush stood up when everyone else sat down. He did a regular thing heroically.
You can watch First Pitch on ESPN’s website.