Todd Zeile still can remember the smell. It was an awful, metallic stench, the odor of burning steel, that filled the Mets team bus as it pulled across the George Washington Bridge on September 12, 2001.
The players, returning from a trip to Pittsburgh in the only way they could after a nationwide air traffic shutdown, crowded to the right side of the bus. They saw that black cloud over lower Manhattan where the World Trade Center had stood, and in an instant understood the pain and fear that had gripped their city.
"I remember wondering, 'What do we do with the group?'" said Bobby Valentine, their manager at the time. "If we were going to just be a Band-Aid over this gaping wound or were we going to actually make a difference?"
The answer, in so many ways, was the latter. The immediate reaction after the 9/11 attacks was to dismiss sports as unimportant, to postpone the games as the nation came to grips with what happened.
Everyone agreed that was the right decision. But soon after, the games people love became an integral part of the healing process for the New York region. The athletes, some with absolutely no ties to the city but a uniform, became a source of inspiration.
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