Chipper Jones recalls first post-9/11 game: ‘Something I’ll never forget’

It was a game unlike any other in Chipper Jones’ 19-year career. Ten days after the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001, the Braves faced the Mets at Shea Stadium. It was the first professional sports event held in New York after the terrorist attacks.

Mets catcher Mike Piazza hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the eighth, awarding the Mets a 3-2 victory before a crowd of 41,235. It capped an emotional evening in which Marc Anthony sang the national anthem, Diana Ross sang “God Bless America,” Mayor Rudy Giuliani — a noted Yankees fan — was applauded, and the Mets donned New York police, fire and EMS hats.

ESPN replayed the game on Tuesday evening, accompanied by Instagram commentary from Jones — who was in left field that night — and Jon Sciambi. Jones went on Scott Van Pelt’s late-night “SportsCenter” and recounted that “magical” evening.

“It was something I’ll never forget,” he said. “When people ask me about my all-time greatest games, I think the first game in New York after 9/11 is probably one, two, three and four, and everything else is a distant second.”

Van Pelt reiterated Jones’ comments in question form, and the latter continued.

“It had a profound impact on me,” Jones said. “I was playing left field that night. They had a very moving national anthem by Marc Anthony. They had the 21-gun salute — I was playing left, the 21-gun salute was in left. I ran out onto the field multiple times during the course of the game and saw spent cartridges, .223 (rifle) cartridges, from the 21-gun salute. And every time, I was stuffing them into my back pocket. I still have them to this day.

“I got stopped in the Atlanta airport one day because I had one of the spent cartridges in my overnight bag. They stopped me and asked me about it. I had to tell the story all over again. This game meant more than — it wasn’t a baseball game. It was baseball players doing our duty to provide some semblance of therapy to the fans of New York for three hours.”

Credit: Mark Lennihan

Credit: Mark Lennihan

Jones predicted Piazza would homer in that eighth inning. He remembered putting his hand over his face before the blast, signaling to teammates he was leery of the Steve Karsay-Piazza matchup. He remembered outfielder Andruw Jones giving the same sign in concurrence.

“If I put my hand over my mouth, it was something funny. If I put my hand over my entire face, it was like ‘I’m scared. This is a bad matchup,’” Jones said. “And I put my hand over my face when Piazza walked up because I was like, ‘He’s going to hit a home run right here.’ Andruw Jones and I both agreed. And I’ll be danged if it didn’t happen.”

Whenever MLB resumes, Jones is slated to join ESPN’s Wednesday night broadcast team. It will be the Hall of Famer’s first regular work in the booth.