Those of us who lived through 9/11, especially in New York, have our own memories of the day and is aftermath. For many like me, just being in Manhattan that morning, living through the uncertainty of how I’d get back home to New Jersey (via foot, ferry, train, and eventually car, eight hours or so after leaving my midtown office) and the uneasy feeling in the days and weeks after, while indelible in my mind, are just a fraction of what those who lost loved ones experienced that day.
The new HBO documentary Extra Innings from 9/11: Twenty Years Later looks at the lives of the families of the victims of the attack through the lens of how baseball, the Mets and Yankees in particular, was part of the healing process then and continue to be to a degree two decades later.
Premiering on HBO Max on Saturday, Extra Innings is a sequel of sorts to the network’s Nine Innings from Ground Zero, which first aired in 2004. Then-Yankees and Mets managers Joe Torre and Bobby Valentine, players John Franco, Al Leiter, Bernie Williams and Mike Piazza are among the most prominent figures who offered perspective on what they experienced and how it has affected their lives.
But the real stars of Extra Innings are the widows, sons and daughters of first responders and of the hijacked airplane’s pilot who tell their stories, their memories of their husbands and fathers as clear as the bright, sunny day that changed the world forever. It’s hard not to feel their unspeakable grief return to the surface, but there is also a certain comfort in how they have been able to move forward with their lives despite the horror of the circumstances.
I found my emotions moved more than once, imagining the pain that reliving the day must have induced in these people, even in the voices of the managers and players. Williams, in relating the story of the team’s first visit to meet those still clinging to hope that their missing loved ones might be found, recalled not being sure what his—or baseball’s—role might be in this, and being immediately and uniquely comforting to a woman who just “needed a hug.” It’s a touching vignette that ties the baseball heroes to the families in a genuine way.
Baseball fans know the outcomes of the 2000 World Series between the two New York teams and the 2001 Series which despite the Yanks’ loss to the Diamondbacks is among the most memorable in postseason history. The Yankees’ run includes Derek Jeter’s famed flip relay against Oakland, replayed so often this week as the shortstop was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. It features the back-to-back, two-out, ninth-inning, game-tying home runs by Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius. And, of course, it’s the Series in which a two-run, ninth-inning rally against Mariano Rivera stunningly made the Arizona Diamondbacks champs. Highlights interspersed between the family stories help pull the viewer back into the context of the action.
Ross Greenburg and Joe Lavine, two of the producers of Nine Innings, serve in that role as well as directors of Extra Innings, a Turner Sports production. Two decades on, some of the emotions that marked the original, the event still fresh in everyone’s conscience, are still there, if not as raw, but every bit as compelling.