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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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By MARC TOPKIN
Published September 10, 2006
9/11: FIVE YEARS LATER
After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the Devil Rays became part of the healing process in New York when they played the first post-attacks game at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 25, wearing NYPD and fire epartment caps, participating in an emotional pregame ceremony and donating their day's pay to the relief effort. "The way tonight was," Rays starter Tanyon Sturtze said, "everyone was just playing for New York."
Five years later, the Rays travel to New York on 9/11 (Monday) and on Tuesday play the first game at the stadium after the five-year anniversary. For two relatively new members of the Rays family who were in New York during the attacks, the day will bring back some jarring memories.
Stuart Sternberg still has his shoes.
The Devil Rays principal owner was in his 19th floor Goldman Sachs office, the one two blocks away and with a clear view of the World Trade Center, when the attacks began.
When the first plane hit, they felt a big rumble and saw what happened from their window before it was on TV. Soon after, they felt the second - "three times as violent as the first one," he said - and again looked out the window for confirmation that it really happened.
Sternberg decided it was time to get out and told his employees to leave, "for everyone to get the hell out of here." He quickly went to the American Stock Exchange, a block closer to the towers, to find the rest of his employees and send them home. Twenty feet from the exit, they felt another rumble. As they walked out, it was if the world had changed, which - they would find out later - it had as the first tower collapsed.
"There was black smoke, and soot, and people were running and screaming," Sternberg said. "You couldn't see. We had no idea the building had fallen. A bunch of us were walking arm in arm toward the (Brooklyn) Battery Tunnel basically to get off the island. Nobody really wanted to say it, but we were concerned a nuclear bomb had gone off. Things were falling out of the sky."
As they got farther away, walking through soot that fell like January snow, they gained perspective. "We could see there was a huge divide in the sky of blue and black," Sternberg said. "People were crying and yelling that the building had fallen. And then we watched the second building fall. It was incredible."
Sternberg walked 4 or 5 miles to his sister's apartment, then later made it home to Westchester County.
He knew many people that perished, and the weeks and months afterward provided many uncomfortable reminders as he would look out of his office window and see workers removing human remains, and smell the stench as he came and went. "It wasn't easy going down and watching every day," he said. "I think it changed everybody forever - some for the better, a lot for the worse."
Sternberg still has the shoes - "with the soot on them" - and vivid memories. He avoids the numbers 9/11 when he can, such as expiration dates on products. "I would say probably every couple of days I still think about it," he said. "It was a real defining moment."
It was 3 or 4 in the morning of Sept. 11 when Josh Paul and the rest of the White Sox got to the Grand Hyatt in midtown Manhattan, late enough that he nixed then-fiancee Kelly's plan to go downtown shopping for knockoff purses, which would have taken them near the World Trade Center. "Maybe luckily for us," he said.
Teammate Sandy Alomar called, telling him to turn on the TV. He saw the first tower start to burn, he saw the second plane hit, he saw the buildings fall. "It was as surreal to us as it was to everybody else," he said.
Bomb scares forced them out of the hotel several times, and Paul was struck by how bizarrely quiet the city was. As they walked in search of an open deli, they looked down the avenues and saw the pillars of smoke. By midday they watched people covered in white dust from the buildings trudge by. "It was just totally bizarre," he said.
Paul was also worried. A dear friend and Vanderbilt teammate, Mark Hindy, worked in a WTC office, and Paul hadn't been able to reach him, or get his messages returned. "I spent the day trying to call Mark," Paul said. "We were hoping that the only reason we didn't get through was that the main cell towers in Manhattan were on top of that building, but that turned out not to be true."
The Sox left for Chicago the next morning by bus, and Paul kept calling Hindy as well as mutual friends who were equally concerned. "It was like four days after it happened, someone called me and said they knew where he was at the time, on one of the top floors," Paul said. "They'd checked every hospital and kind of resigned themselves to the fact that he was gone. It was a mess."
When the Sox had a workout later that week, Paul "pretty much lost it" and had to leave. When play resumed a few days later, Paul wrote Hindy's No. 41 on his chest protector and unexpectedly found his peace on the field, playing some of the best baseball of his career. "Those three hours," he said, "really became a refuge for me." Paul wrote a poignant piece on Hindy for the Chicago Tribune.
Relatives and friends formed the Mark Hindy Foundation (markhindycf.org) to support youth efforts, and Paul collected memorabilia for their charity auctions. The five years have allowed him to move on somewhat, as has having his own family. (Though he says of Osama Bin Laden, "I'd still like to see somebody find that son of a b----. I've been waiting for five years and their promises fell through.")
Paul has been back to New York numerous times, including a self-guided tour of the WTC area when the Sox returned that October, but never on 9/11.
"It will bring back memories," Paul said. "In my case, I think it's pretty much healed. Mark was an absolutely wonderful human being. I loved him. He was a great friend. But I got married that offseason and now I have a son and I'm looking forward to the things in my life that are going to be good. When I do look back and remember him, I smile to myself. That's where I am."