Trot Nixon played for the Red Sox from 1996-2006. Known as the original "Dirt Dog," he manned right field for the 2004 World Series championship team. Ten years ago, on Sept. 11, 2001, Nixon got a call that his wife, Kathryn, was about to give birth to their first child. There was just one problem: Trot was in Tampa and his wife was in Boston. When he got on a plane the morning of Sept. 11, he had no idea what was about to take place in the United States. A decade later, Trot recalls the events of that memorable day...
My son Chase was born on 9/11. I am very proud of that because on such a difficult, stressful, sorrowful day, one that everybody remembers for the terrorist attacks, this young man was born in Boston and brought hope and light to an otherwise dark story.
On Sept. 11, 2001, I was on the Red Sox, and we had flown from New York through the night to Tampa. At the time, I was on the edge of my seat because I was waiting on my wife, Kathryn, to give me the call so I could fly back to Boston and be there for the birth of our first son, Chase. Just when I was laying my head down on the pillow, she called and said it's time. I made all the necessary calls to get on the earliest flight to get up there. Our traveling secretary, Jack McCormick, got my flight all set up. I headed over to the airport, got on the plane, got comfortable in my seat and shut my eyes before they even cranked up the engines.
We were flying when the pilot came on and said, "Ladies and gentleman, we have a situation right now. We're going to need to land in Norfolk [Virginia]. We will keep you posted." I see a stewardess walk by and she looked pale. I remember seeing her when I got on the plane and she was normal-looking. You can look at someone and tell when they're getting ready to get sick to their stomach. Well, this is what she looked like. I'm sitting there wondering what is going on. Before the pilot came back on, I heard the guy in front of me say, "Somebody says that a plane flew into the towers down in New York." I thought maybe it was just one of those small planes that got out of control or something like that. Then the pilot came on and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, we're landing here in Norfolk. The reason why we are is there has been a situation in New York and in Washington. The president of the United States has ordered that all aircraft be grounded nationwide. Nobody can come into our airspace or out of our airspace. So we don't know when we're going to be able to take back off."
My main focus had been on Kathryn and our newborn son about to be born, and now my focus was transformed to what was going on in this country right now. As I'm walking off the plane, I hear the pilots saying, "We're not going anywhere." So I was in panic mode, thinking I've got to get out of here. I still didn't know what was going on until I was walking by an airport bar. Everybody in the bar was looking at the TV. I didn't want to sit there and look at it because it looked awful seeing what was happening to the towers. Finally I had an understanding of what was going on. I realized that there's no way I'm going to get to Boston for the birth of my son and I broke down. This is a proud moment in our lives and an exciting moment and I'm not going to be able to be there. I had no idea what I was going to tell Kathryn.
I called the hospital and talked to the doctor. I asked if Kathryn knew what was going on right now. He said no, they had kept that from her. I told him I was in Norfolk and there was no way I could get there in the next few hours. All flights were grounded and the only transportation was just vehicles. He said they were going to have to go ahead and induce labor. Then Kathryn got on the phone, and that was the most difficult thing. I explained to her why I couldn't be there. It was very difficult because not only was I telling her I wasn't going to be there for the birth of our son, but all the other stuff that was going on, too. She didn't understand the magnitude at all because the TVs were off in her room.
My cousin lived nearby and picked me up at the airport. Kathryn called me back about an hour and fifteen minutes later. She was crying and I could hear Chase crying in the background. It's pretty special for any father to hear his son or daughter for the very first time, that loud scream when they're born. It was exciting, even though mine was through the phone. After that, the doctor said Kathryn was absolutely fine and they were keeping her under wraps, not letting her watch the TV and so forth. I said great and I was working my way up that way and would be there as soon as I could. My cousin drove me to meet my parents and sister, who came from Wilmington, N.C. We met at Interstate 95 and began driving to Boston. It was a long 19 hours of driving straight through the night. It was gut-wrenching to see Washington, D.C., to see the black smoke on U.S. soil. We got to the New York area and could not go any further north. We had to go around New York City because they weren't allowing anyone in.
I drove the last four hours of the night listening to the news. I was kind of stunned, very angry, I wanted somebody to pay. What that tells me is I was very selfish. But somebody came onto our soil, did that to us and, personally, I missed the opportunity of seeing my first son being born. We pulled in about 3 a.m. I hadn't slept in over 24 hours. I didn't care because all I wanted was to see Kathryn. I wanted the nurses to bring Chase in there so I could see him. I couldn't wait to see him and hold him. Seeing Chase for the first time brought closure to the day. I hate saying that I felt like I had failed a little bit, but that's kind of what I felt like inside until I saw him.
I think about that day all the time. I always sit back and think about that 24 hours that I spent, and it wasn't very difficult compared to what other people went through on that date. It was just a little unique. Being born on 9/11, a very patriotic day, I think that's when this country got even stronger amidst the devastation we went through. With Chase turning 10, I need to ask him what he knows about 9/11. I won't do it on his birthday, but maybe at the end of the night I'll talk to him about it. We haven't told him that much. He hasn't really come to us and said, "Hey, what happened on my birthday when I was born?" But we're prepared to basically tell him what happened, exactly what happened and why it happened. Tell him what America did about it. How it united us. We'll tell him: The biggest thing is that with you being born in Boston, not only were you a bright light for Kathryn and me, but also for so many of our family and friends. It took their minds off what was going on around them. What was going on in New York, D.C. and Pennsylvania. What we were getting ready to do about it. The focus was on you.
It was a very difficult time for a lot of people. For our friends and family, Chase's birth got their mind off things even for a few moments and put a smile on their face. How cool, you know? It should make him feel good.
Now, I find him at my computer looking at stuff. You want to know what he's looking at? He's looking at Team USA baseball stuff and Team USA football and tells me he wants to play for them. Not, I want to play for the Washington Redskins or the New England Patriots. I mean, he'll tell you he wants to play for the Red Sox, I'm not going to lie to you about that. He loves the Red Sox. But he says that first: Team USA for baseball and football. I said, "Look, that's just not wearing a cool jersey and playing for yourself." He goes, "Yeah, I know, it's playing for my country." I thought, wow, OK, that's a 9-year-old saying this to me, and now he's turning 10. It's kind of cool, being a kid born on Sept. 11, and he's all about USA sports.
A portion of this story also ran in ESPN The Magazine. To see the complete Magazine story on athletes' memories of 9/11, click here.