To play in one’s hometown almost immediately after a terrorist attack – amid grief, anxiety and common purpose — brings forth a unique set of emotions. To do so as an opposing player merely adds to the complexity.
Karsay, who grew up in Queens, was the setup man for the Atlanta Braves at Shea Stadium on Sept. 21, 2001 — the first night baseball returned to New York after 9/11.
“I told myself, ‘If you get into this game, you’re going to have to push everything to the back of your mind and focus for 15 minutes on doing your job,’” Karsay told me in a 2011 interview. “That’s what I tried to do. I got the call in the seventh inning that I had the eighth.
“You could just feel the tension in the ballpark. To be honest with you, the fans were waiting for something to happen where they could erupt and let some of that anger and anxiety out.”
It happened — with Karsay on the mound. He threw the fastball that Mike Piazza belted off the center-field camera well for the indelible, lead-changing home run that delivered the Mets’ 3-2 win.
Karsay made clear during our interview that he wasn’t happy to have surrendered that home run. But he added: “If there’s any game I had to give up a home run, any game I had to lose, then I would choose that home run in that game. It definitely wasn’t intentional. It was just meant to be. That’s how I look at it. That’s going to be part of baseball, and part of how we remember Sept. 11, for years to come. And you know what? I’m good with that.”
Twelve years later, Collins could find himself in a similarly weighty late-game confrontation at Fenway Park.
Collins — a Worcester, Mass., native – was stuck at the Royals’ team hotel in Copley Square Friday afternoon while the manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev forced the postponement of the scheduled series opener against the Red Sox.
“You see stuff happen in other cities and don’t ever think it could happen close to home,” Collins said in the hotel lobby. “When it does, it’s surreal. Watching the news, seeing areas you’re extremely familiar with, places you’ve visited many times before — it looks like a ghost town out there right now. It’s not typical Boston.
“There’s a lot of meaning behind these next few games, especially the first game back at home since this happened. They’ve got a lot to play for. The city would love to see them win.”
Collins smiled when I mentioned the Karsay comparison. I asked how he would feel if a sellout at Fenway Park – tens of thousands of people from his hometown — roared as David Ortiz stepped into the batter’s box against the lefty from Worcester.
“I’d probably try to strike him out,” Collins said, laughing. “That’s my job. I’m not going to give up a home run to somebody because of the situation.
“I don’t think it’s whether they win or lose. Just having the game and being able to enjoy themselves is the biggest part.”