Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch sat in the stands for the 2001 World Series.
He remembers watching the series with his wife. The New York Yankees were facing the Arizona Diamondbacks. The national anthem felt personal: The country was coming back from the most significant historical event of Hinch’s generation. Silently observing the recreation of the raising of the flag at “Ground Zero” on the infield before Game 1 is a moment he recounts to his children and players.
“That time was incredible,” Hinch, now 47, said. “Even watching (President George W.) Bush throw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium. There’s just so many things that flood your memory about that time. All of it circles back to the loss of life and the change of lifestyle that was needed after that event.”
On Sept. 11, 2001, the United States was under attack. Two planes were hijacked by the al-Qaida terrorist organization — founded by Osama bin Laden — and flown into the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York City. Two other planes were hijacked, as well. One crashed into the Pentagon in Virginia. The other plane traveled toward Washington before tearing into a field in Pennsylvania. Passengers and crew members fought back to stop an attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed.
“We start talking about 20 years ago now,” Hinch said. “It’ll be 30 years, 40 years, 50 years. People will be studying this in American history as a time that defines an entire era. It’s incredible to think of the loss but also incredible to think of having lived through it.”
Hinch was sleeping in the basement of former teammate Mike Macfarlane’s house on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. They played together for the Oakland Athletics when Hinch first reached the big leagues in 1998, beginning a seven-year MLB career.
In 2001, Hinch was a catcher for the Kansas City Royals.
“He woke me up to turn the TV on,” Hinch said. “My wife was back in Phoenix. We were about to have another child. Literally the world flashed in front of your eyes as to see what was really going on. I don’t think any of us could quite comprehend what was going on at that moment.
“Anytime that this time of year comes around, you have great thought and care for so many people that lost their lives in that, and then the subsequent war that followed.”
Hinch experienced another tragedy — a local event observed by the entire country — in late August 2017, when Hurricane Harvey directly killed 68 people, damaged the city of Houston and left its residents in shambles. Once again, he watched first responders put their lives at risk at help others. He witnessed the community rise to the challenge of bouncing back from a historically devastating event.
About nine weeks later, Hinch managed to the Astros to a World Series championship over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Complete strangers cheered together during a Game 7 watch party at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Once the Astros returned home, the city held a championship parade.
An estimated 750,000 to 1 million people were downtown to celebrate.
But nothing compares to what Hinch learned about humanity after Sept. 11, 2001.
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“At that time in my life, I was pretty naive as to what events like that can do to reunite a society, reunite a group of people and galvanize an entire city,” Hinch said about the 9/11 attacks. “I didn’t have anything close to the right amount of appreciation for that at the time in my life when I was witnessing that. As I’ve gotten older and had my own kids and try to raise them through a really weird world, I have great appreciation for what that can do for people and how that can sort of reignite the nation’s pride and the appreciation for the first responders and for the military and for normal life.
“If there’s ever going to be normal life again.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.