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Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Konerko, Ventura remember 9/11

By Doug Padilla

CHICAGO -- A dozen years later, 9/11 still feels like yesterday to Chicago White Sox captain Paul Konerko.

The White Sox were in their New York hotel the morning two planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers and Konerko is the last remaining player from that team to endure the experience.

"It's one of those things you can say you were there which you don't say it with any amount of pride," Konerko said on the eve of the 12th anniversary of the national tragedy. "It was a beautiful day, I remember that. Not a cloud in the sky. It was a very warm, nice day for September."

The White Sox had just arrived in New York after playing in Cleveland the previous night. They would leave the city on buses at 6 a.m. on Sept. 12 having not played a game against the Yankees.

"You know, the morning there, we got in so late the night before, a lot of the team we kind of slept through all of it and kind of woke up in the aftermath of it at 10 or 11 a.m.," Konerko said. “At that point, if you remember, there were still some planes that were unaccounted for in the air, all over the country. No one knew what was going on there. We were standing right there [in the hotel] connected to Grand Central Station. A lot of guys just wanted to get out of there and get into the streets. Me and a couple of guys, we walked all the way down as far as we could go to the towers, where they were.

"We got close enough to where you could see smoke and debris and stuff. Just basically walked where it had already been hit. We figured that was the safest place to be. The rest of the day was kind of a lot of walking around and the next morning we were out of there."

White Sox manager Robin Ventura was playing for the New York Mets at the time, with the team in Pittsburgh for a series. They boarded a bus back for home the next day.

"For us with the Mets, the staging area was around Shea [Stadium] so we were around it a lot even once we got back," Ventura said. "We bused back the next day. By the time we got back, the parking lot, everything around Shea was filled with supplies and there was a lot of people coming and going and firefighters that were there coming from all over the country that were kind of staged there and they'd get driven in. We were around it a lot."

Baseball games were postponed for a week and when play returned, the New York Yankees opened a series in Chicago against the White Sox. When the Yankees' Mariano Rivera pitched in his final game at U.S. Cellular Field last month, part of the White Sox's gift to him was a collage of photos from that first game back to action.

Eventually the White Sox returned to New York.

"I know guys were pretty shook up when it happened, and when we went back that same year, when we had to make up those games, we stayed at a different hotel," Konerko said. "Some guys didn't even want to go there. It definitely, as many cities as we travel to, and as many hotels we stay in, buildings, all that kind of stuff, it definitely, since that day, it's something that crosses your mind everywhere you go."

Ventura remembers how a somber time turned to a hopeful one.

"If you were around there and saw what had happened and the people that were there, there was everything," he said. "You had every emotion possible. There was anger that went with it. People in New York rallied around to help, and people around the country did the same thing.

"Even what happened with Boston this year, it just kind of boggles your mind that can actually happen. But the people who were in charge and were helping out and doing stuff, the amount of work that went into it, and the planning and execution of it all is unbelievable."

Like it is for most, 9/11 is a day that won't be forgotten, but being in New York that day left an extra vivid memory.

"Nobody is going to forget what happened that day," Konerko said. "But to be in New York, it was very, a weird place to be, that's for sure. So, no doubt it's always a story that I have to tell, but it's not exactly one you want to tell. It was definitely a crazy day and just it seems like it was yesterday."