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October 12, 2006: Twisted Fate (Baseball, Plane Crashes, and NYC)

I saw the news about the plane crash while doing errands with a good friend yesterday. We were walking through Davis Square in Somerville, just as it was starting to drizzle, feeling good about ourselves for having visited the post office and farmer’s market before heavy rain started to fall. As we were passing Mike’s, a pizza joint that recently installed giant plasma screen TVs, the image on the screen of a building on fire caught my eye.

I pressed against the glass, recognizing New York City the way a child recognizes her mother’s face in a sea of strangers. What I couldn’t tell was whether it was the west side or the east side, couldn’t make out which bridge was in the background. We hopped in the car and turned on newsradio, breathing a sigh of relief when the words “not terrorism” were spoken.

After all, it was October 11th, a day I will always associate closely with terrorism and September 11th, because of my trip to Yankee Stadium on that day in 2001. (Read the entry) The one-month anniversary. Game 2 of the ALDS. A friend of mine (who is a Red Sox fan) and I drove down to the game together, had our pocket knives confiscated by overzealous stadium security (knives were not on the list of newly-prohibited items posted outside the Stadium and on the web site), watched Bush’s speech on the Diamondvision while they delayed the start of the game, and so on.

We hadn’t gone a mile in the car, though, when the word came over the radio that the plane had belonged to Cory Lidle. Now things were simply surreal.

Just the day before, I’d interrupted my workday to take notes and file a story on Joe Torre’s press conference. (The one where he announced that nothing was changing.) It was as if, having been bumped in the first round of the playoffs, the Yankees still had to be in the headlines. At least that’s the way Charley Steiner bitterly put it on his XM Radio show when his phone-in interview with a guest was interrupted for the Torre presser. (Gee, Charley, have some sour grapes?)

I’d wager he had no such callous things to say once it was confirmed that Lidle had been on the plane. News trickled in bit by bit once we got back to the office. Lidle’s passport had been found on the ground outside the building that the plane had hit. At first they were reporting four fatalities, but as it turned out, everyone in the building was okay. Two bodies were found on the ground, though.

A while later, it was the Yankees themselves who confirmed that Lidle had been in the plane. His wife and son were also on a plane at the time, flying cross country, and so did not hear the news until hours after everyone else. I assume they were headed to California, where Lidle hailed from. Lidle and Jason Giambi had been teammates in high school in SoCal, and had played together in the majors in Oakland. Lidle was also a replacement player, one of those like Shane Spencer and Kevin Millar, who crossed the line during the 1994 strike and so were barred from joining the players’ union.

By dinner time, when my significant other came home, the fire was out, firefighters and NTSB investigators were picking through the rubble, and the news that a mayday call about a fuel problem had been made shortly before the crash. Taking off from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, they had flown past the Statue of Liberty and were headed up the East River when, it appears, they might have tried to make toward LaGuardia for an emergency landing. Instead, they veered and struck the north-facing side of a condo building around 71st Street, a building where one of the Mets coaches lives.

As we ate dinner, I told corwin I felt bad that I didn’t feel worse about Lidle. “I just don’t feel anything,” I said. “And I feel bad about that. I mean, I feel generally bad that a terrible thing happened. But I dunno.”

He pointed out that I never met Lidle, unlike many of the players, I had no personal connection to him, had hardly seen him play.

A terrible thought occurred to me. “Do you think I’d feel differently if either he’d pitched better or the Yankees had won?” Could my bitterness over the Yankees’ loss in the ALDS have dampened my feelings about this?

Get a grip, I told myself. Life and death goes on a different scale from “baseball.” Which is why I thought I really ought to have felt something other than the general apathy I felt then.

It hit me in the middle of the night. I woke just before dawn with the thought “…flying up the East River.” How much do you want to bet that Lidle planned to fly over Yankee Stadium? He was a free agent, probably going to land with another team by February. He had cleared out his locker on Sunday. Did he want to take one more look, a bird’s eye view, of the place, a view few players have had? (They’re going to tear the place down, you know.)

And then I lay there thinking, about Lidle’s six-year-old son, who must have surely thought he had the greatest dad in the world, who played Major League Baseball. And about how if the bodies were found on the ground, was it the crash that killed them, or the fall? And all the sadness and terror that I have learned to suppress automatically whenever we talk about terrorism suddenly came flooding out.

I’m crying as I type this. I didn’t cry on this past anniversary of September 11th. I kept a lid on it.

And come to think of it, I didn’t cry when the Yankees lost the 2001 World Series. I went to bed that night subdued, but not heartbroken.

Heartbreak didn’t set in until the next day.

This feels much the same.

I didn’t know Cory Lidle. I never stood at his locker waiting for a postgame quote. I’m not even sure I would recognize his voice. But now I’m finding it fitting that about an hour after the crash it started to rain in New York. It rained so hard, it washed out the opener of the NLCS at Shea. When an accident claims two people’s lives, it’s a tragedy, whether any of them played Major League Baseball or not. But given the way baseball, New York, and planes flying into buildings are forever linked–not to mention the fact that the last baseball player to die in his own plane was also a Yankee, captain and catcher Thurman Munson in 1979–Lidle’s death seems like a sign of the times.

And I’m sad. So sad.

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