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Monday, 24 September, 2001, 13:27 GMT 14:27 UK
Baseball honours the dead
Liza Minnelli sings New York, New York
Liza Minnelli belted out New York, New York
Jonathan Duffy

The New York Mets' team colours were drowned out by the abundance of red, white and blue at the city's first major sporting event since the World Trade Center attacks.

It was the moment New Yorkers came out to play again.

Ten days after the city was rocked to its core, 40,000 baseball fans got to their feet and joined Liza Minnelli in a rousing rendition of New York, New York.

New York Mets player with NYPD cap
The players wore police and fire department caps
As they belted this Broadway anthem, thousands of the paper stars and stripes flags that had been handed out at the turnstiles waved in the muggy night air.

"If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere," sang the Oscar-winning star as a huddle of representatives from New York's emergency services step-danced behind her.

"We'll get through - New York, New York."

All night the atmosphere at Shea Stadium had been electric, for this, the first major sporting event in New York since the devastating attack on the World Trade Center.

But it took until the middle of the seventh innings, when Minnelli stepped on to the field to perform, for that electrical charge to markedly switch from a sense of hesitant enjoyment to outright celebration.

American flag

New Yorkers came to the Mets' stadium in Flushing on Friday night to support their team and demonstrate their legendary spirit.

We have to show that we are not afraid, that we love America and that we cannot hide

Henry Holden
"This is very important," said Henry Holden, who was decked out head-to-toe in a suit of the American flag.

"We have to show that we are not afraid, that we are patriotic, that we love America and that we cannot hide."

But despite calls from politicians and civic leaders for Americans to try and get back to normal, this was never going to be just another ball game.

A marine hands out stars and stripes flags
Stars and stripes flags were handed out
Radio stations and newspapers carried warnings in the run-up to Friday's game against the Atlanta Braves that security would be tight.

Large bags, backpacks and cooler boxes would be banned.

Parking would be prohibited within 100 ft of the stadium and all bags were to be searched.

Terrorist targets

Such measures led to long queues outside as fans patiently waited to take their seats.

No-one seemed bothered that such an event would be considered a target for terrorists.

Fan Harry Holden wearing Stars and Stripes
Many draped themselves in the national flag
"At this stage you could see everything as a target. But you can't worry about it. You just have to get on with life," said schoolteacher Barbra Klein, who was sporting a stars and stripes polo shirt.

But the police were taking no chances. Inside the ballpark, they maintained a heavy presence.

Leashed sniffer dogs patrolled the gangways, uniformed offers kept a watchful eye and plain-clothed intelligence agents stood out a mile thanks to their suits.

At gate D, representatives from the armed services - one each from the air force, army and marines - handed out little paper flags of the Star Spangled Banner.

No one refused, although many had gone to great efforts themselves to fly the flag.

Galaxy of stars and stripes

For one evening at least, the Mets' blue and orange team colours were drowned out by red, white and blue.

A bag is searched
Fans faced increased security at Shea Stadium
On the verdant pitch, either side of home base, two red, white and blue ribbons had been dyed into grass.

Around the edge of the stadium roof, 20 American flags drooped at half-mast.

Some men wore giant star-spangled top hats. Some women sported red, white and blue sequinned tops, or bandannas or T-shirts.

Others wore baseball hats or carried banners to acknowledge the work of New York's police and fire departments, which lost personnel in the collapse of the towers.

And on top of the right field scoreboard, where a neon representation of New York's skyline glows, an oversized red, white and blue ribbon covered the outline of the Twin Towers.

Americana extravaganza

This celebration of Americana reached all the senses - from the salty smell of the pretzels hawked by vendors to the Wurlitzer organ treatment of Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA.

It was the pre-game ceremony that stirred the emotions most.

Barbra and Ty Klein
Fans refused to be cowed by any threats
The loudest cheer of the night went to New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani, whose noted allegiance to the Mets' rivals - the Yankees - was overlooked for the evening.

To the booming chant of "U-S-A", Diana Ross emerged in front of the crowd to sing God Bless America.

As she did, members of the police, fire and emergency services departments joined hospital workers and 24 midshipmen to spread out a giant American flag on the pitch.

A 21-gun salute followed and then a moment's silence to remember those who died in the attacks and their families.

It was a display of defiance as much as patriotism, and the crowd was visibly moved.

After that, the game itself could have been a sideshow. But when Mets star Mike Piazza sealed victory for the home side in the eighth innings, New Yorkers also had a game to remember.

See also:

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