Pride Of The CityS

Over at SB Nation Longform, Joe DePaolo has a strong piece on the annual baseball game between the NYPD and NYFD:

While the Finest's roster includes several younger guys just out of the police academy, the Bravest's roster still included more than a few players over the age of 40.

One of those over-40 was player/manager and firefighter Scott Miller, who was preparing to play in his final NYPD-FDNY Classic. He still loved the game, but the first baseman/DH wanted to spend some more time with his family. Finding sponsors, organizing trips, purchasing uniforms, all these things took time and Miller wanted his weekends back.

"I've got a young daughter," Miller said. "I don't want to come (to a baseball field) at 10 o'clock (a.m.) on a Saturday - time I get outta here, it's one or two. I don't want to do it anymore."

Miller took over the squad after Andre Fletcher died along with another team member, Michael Weinberg, in the attacks on September 11, 2001. Weinberg, an outfielder who earned a baseball scholarship for St. John's and then played two seasons in the Detroit Tigers organization, was off duty that day and was preparing to play golf when he learned of the attacks and raced to Manhattan. He was killed in the collapse of the North Tower. Fletcher, the son of Jamaican immigrants whose twin brother Zackery is also a member of FDNY, was a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School. He became a firefighter in 1994 and founded the existing Bravest baseball team four years later. Like Weinberg, like almost every other cop and firefighter, on the morning of September 11 he answered the call. His body was never found. On the FDNY team website, both men remain on the team roster.

The following season, 2002, was a critical year for the team, and helped make the rivalry with the cops what it is today. Before 9/11, the NYPD-FDNY contests were small affairs, played at local colleges in front of practically no one - not even the players' families showed up. But after 9/11, the game took off, its symbolic value in the still healing city resonating with the public. Representatives from MCU Park in Coney Island, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, a Class-A Mets affiliate, offered to host the game at the 7,500-seat minor-league ballpark. Members of both squads made television appearances to help promote the contest, including one high-profile spot on "Good Morning America." Tickets were sold and the proceeds were donated to police and fire related charities.

Miller credits NYPD for making sure the rivalry continued after 9/11. They pressed to keep playing after the Bravest lost Fletcher and Weinberg.

"The cops said ‘We want to play you.' And we did, and it was great. And it was therapeutic and whatever," Miller said, talking about the 9/11 aftermath in the way tough guys always talk about emotional things, by hardly talking about them at all. They lived through 9/11; they don't need to talk about it to know that.

[Photo Credit: Gapspizzol]