The Home Run That Made New York Cheer After 9/11

A pitcher and a grieving mother remember the city's first pro sporting event after the attacks

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Reuters


Steve Karsay returned home to Queens on September 21, 2001 a torn man. He sat in the Shea Stadium visitors' bullpen in left field, a native New Yorker overcome with sadness. It was the first sporting event in New York after the attacks, and his Atlanta Braves were leading the Mets 2-1 heading into the eighth inning. Karsay, a right-handed pitcher who grew up just miles away from Shea in College Point, knew his emotions were everywhere, and he understood that he had to store them somewhere for the 10 to 15 minutes he was on the mound before getting the ball to closer John Smoltz in the ninth. "You could feel the fans wanting to erupt and wanting to experience some kind of joy after feeling what had happened," he said in a recent interview.

9-11 Ten Years Later Walking from the left-field bullpen to the Shea mound that night, Karsay was in the midst of what would be his finest season. (74 appearances, 2.35 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings.) By the time he finished his 17-year professional career, Karsay, a former first-round pick out of nearby Christ the King High School, was 32-39 with an ERA of 4.01. A couple months after that September night at Shea, Karsay would cash in on his career year, signing a 4-year, $22.5 million deal with the Yankees, the biggest payday in a career that was riddled by elbow and shoulder surgeries.

The local kid made out well for himself, but this homecoming, only the second time he had ever pitched at the stadium, had him stepping in against the top of the lineup. Mike Piazza was due up third.

"Here we go," he thought.

ON MULBERRY LANE in the West Hempstead neighborhood of Long Island, Susan Ainbinder-Hutchins had a hard time watching the game that Friday night. Her oldest son, Kevin Colbert, a 6-foot-1, 275-pound, family-oriented die-hard Mets and New York Giants fan, had reported on September 11th to the audit unit of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. Colbert, 25 at the time, was one of 2,606 to enter the World Trade Center that day and perish, one of 67 KBW employees on the 88th and 89th floors of the South Tower that didn't make it.

She loved the Mets and so did Colbert, often watching and attending games together. But she never got to say goodbye to him, as Colbert forgot to take his cell phone with him that morning. Nearly 10 years following his passing, Ainbinder-Hutchins just recently deleted his voicemail greeting from his phone, which she still has. A brick dedicated to Colbert lies at Citi Field, as is a bench in Central Park.

"There is a huge hole in my chest," Ainbinder-Hutchins says, choking up. "There's a freezing cold wind that constantly comes through. It's never going to heal or go away." Entering the bottom of the eighth, Karsay got the first out before walking Edgardo Alfonzo. Up walked Piazza, arguably the greatest hitting catcher the game has ever seen.

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Timothy Bella is a journalist living in New York City.

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