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President George Bush throws out the ceremonial first pitch for Game 3 of the World series onb Oct. 30, 2001.

President George W. Bush throws out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the start of Game 3 of the World Series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2001, at Yankee Stadium in New York.

Kathy Willens, Associated Press

A father and son in Yankee Stadium after 9/11

A city marked by resiliency and optimism in the wake of a tragedy

SHARE A father and son in Yankee Stadium after 9/11
SHARE A father and son in Yankee Stadium after 9/11

The excitement and optimism in the air was palpable on that chilly, late October night in 2001. The following evening, Oct. 30, the New York Yankees were to host Game 3 of the 2001 World Series, just seven weeks after the 9/11 disaster. President George Bush was coming to throw out the first pitch. We had come together enough as a nation to have the World Series. 

I (Bob, the dad) was in New York for a legal conference, booked long before 9/11. I had gone to dinner that night at a favorite restaurant on the upper east side. I decided to walk the 50 blocks back to my hotel to contemplate the incredible and exciting events that put me in New York for this improbable, very late, World Series. What’s more, I had secured tickets, and my son, Robbie, was coming from Salt Lake to join me. Fifty blocks on that cold night went by fast. Here are the perspectives of father and son.

Robbie Sykes (the son)

I was 15 in October of 2001, just starting my sophomore year of high school. I learned from my mom that my dad had secured last minute tickets for Game 3 of the World Series — bought from a scalper in Connecticut. I took an overnight JetBlue flight to JFK, — my first solo flight ever — and was greeted by a man holding a sign with my name on it.

During that 60-minute car trip to the hotel, the driver and I had long conversations about the Yankees and the city’s history. Writing this 20 years later, I appreciate things now that I did not fully comprehend at the time. In 2001, I had already been to New York City once before with my family, perhaps a year or two earlier. But I did not really see the city, much less appreciate its sheer magnitude, until dad permitted me to explore on my own that afternoon. 

In retrospect, I did not wander very far from our hotel, perhaps a square mile total in central Manhattan. Yet, I felt a world away from my Salt Lake City home. I saw people I had never seen, speaking languages I had never heard. And that was just while buying a hot dog from a kosher stand. 

I have a distinct memory of meeting a street vendor selling Yankees merchandise. When he saw my Yankees hat (and after I bought another from him), he explained to me how different Manhattan was from his home in the South Bronx. It occurred to me that what seemed like a large city was just a small slice of a massive metropolis. Leafing through the back pages of my memories, I am struck by something unique about New York: its resilience. Resilience in the face of tragedy.

The city was still in recovery and mourning. However, my memories center on the people I met — the driver, the street vendor, and so forth. We talked about the city, their lives and the Yankees. I had perhaps a single conversation about the tragic events that had occurred just seven weeks earlier. But most people talked about how the nation “came together” after the horrors of 9/11. 

What seemed like a moment of unity 20 years ago has somewhat dissipated into the divisions we see today. But I remain perhaps a naive optimist in this regard. Although the events of 9/11 shaped the world I would come to inhabit, my trip to New York influenced how I would later come to view it. As divided as we may be today, there is more that unites us than divides us as a people.

Bob Sykes (the father)

The game was sold out. It was illegal at the time to buy scalper tickets in New York City. I located a person with two tickets along the first base line but had to drive two hours to a strip mall in Connecticut to make the deal. $1,000 each for two $38 face value tickets. Ugh! But it was the chance of a lifetime, so I swallowed hard.

It was a cold night with heavy security. Security was daunting. The president of the United States and many other dignitaries were coming. Everyone was thoroughly searched. We finally got into our seats about 20 minutes before game time. 

Yankee Stadium was truly magical that night. It was all lit up. And there was a feeling of optimism in the air. My last visit to Yankee Stadium had been 40 years before, in September 1961, on the day that Roger Maris hit his 60th home run (and Mickey Mantle hit a triple).

The roar of three presidential helicopters landing in the parking lot was deafening, even at Yankee Stadium, when the president arrived. It was a dramatic entry. The singing of the national anthem was extremely moving and meaningful. A bald eagle flew in from an upper deck to home plate. Graceful and stunning. Both teams had lined up along the first and third base lines, standing at attention, with hands over hearts. It was unforgettable.

President Bush strode boldly to the mound, wearing what appeared to be a warmup jacket. Many who throw out first pitches stand in front of the mound. President Bush stood on the mound and threw a perfect strike. Everyone erupted in applause. It was a unifying moment. So many different races, colors, languages and creeds in the stadium. Yet, all were unified for that brief, special moment.

This World Series game was a seminal moment for America, post 9/11. It was seven weeks to the day from the terrorist attack. It showed to Robbie and me that America could unify and come together. It solidified our faith in America as a shining beacon of hope and goodness. The wonderful memories from this World Series game remain ever with us.

Robert B. Sykes is an attorney in Salt Lake City. Robert D. Sykes is an attorney practicing in Seattle, Wash.