BRONX, N.Y. — Being there for Opening Day is thrill in itself for any baseball fan. Standing on the famous Yankee Stadium grass, along with the players, and surrounded by 49,514 cheering fans — now that’s just a dream come true for any fanatic of the old ballgame.
But while emergency personnel first responders from Newtown got to experience what Robinson Cano, David Ortiz, and other baseball greats are fortunate enough to taste as part of their careers, the jubilation was certainly a bit tempered for this year’s Opening Day at Yankee Stadium. These were police department and fire companies officials who were on the scene at Sandy Hook Elementary School when the world-shaking massacre took place this past December 14.
Newtown police and fire responders, less than four months ago thrust into trying to save lives and forced to face the cruel reality that 26 helpless children and educators could not be brought back to life, were honored during a special pregame ceremony prior to the season opener between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox on April 1.
Before all of the cheers of joy for the start of yet another baseball campaign, before the first appreciative tip of the cap from a Yankee in pinstripes, before the cheers changed to boos when the Red Sox clobbered the Bronx Bombers 8-2, there was a moment of silence for the victims of that senseless attack. Their names scrolled on the centerfield video board as Newtown’s first responders and the Major League Baseball players alike, along with 81 West Point Cadets holding a huge American flag, showed their respect.
“It’s humbling, it’s overwhelming, it’s exciting — and there’s almost a little guilt in there that we’re here,” said one of those first responders, Newtown Police Department Detective Daniel McAnaspie, who has been a New York Yankees fan since the late 1980s.
McAnaspie is accustomed to sitting in the upper deck, looking down on the tiny players below. On this special day, he was among those sharing the field with the players in their up-close, big in stature and popularity grandness.
Members of the Yanks and Sox wore a special patch featuring a ribbon and the Town of Newtown logo, which was also painted on the field in front of both dugouts as a reminder of those who were lost and to honor their survivors and these first responders.
On this unique Opening Day, the Yankees and Red Sox — perhaps the biggest rivals in all of sports — united with fans in showing respect for the victims as well as those affected by the shooting.
“It’s been difficult for all of us. That’s why we’re all here,” said Jason Frank, another detective in the police department, who is also a longtime Yankee fan. “We’re not even looking for the recognition by any means. It’s about getting out of the office and enjoying a day.”
McAnaspie pointed out that the Newtown first responders were also representing Connecticut State Police and other officials who assisted them. “They did so much for us that day and in the weeks and months after,” he said.
Since 12/14 these emergency officials have been handling a case — and its aftermath — far worse than any they could have anticipated being involved with. Some of those who were on the scene took time away from work to begin their recovery from their exposure to the horrific tragedy.
Spring signifies fresh starts, and the start of baseball presents some with new hope and anticipation — a reason to smile and be excited.
Before walking out onto the field for this ceremony, Frank anticipated what it would be like. “It’s just going to be emotional. The emotions are going to be very high,” he said.
Especially when you have nearly 50,000 fans and members of arch enemy teams all uniting as one to remember those who will never get the chance to watch or be a part of any game ever again.