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Sturtze faces emotions in mound return

Rays right-hander to pitch in his hometown, where a lifelong friend lost a loved one to attacks.

By KEVIN KELLY

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 17, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Their faces and names appear on our televisions and newspaper pages, yet we might never know the enriching stories of the individuals who died during Tuesday's terrorist attacks.

Of someone like Tara Creamer.

A mother of two young children. The wife of a longtime friend of Tanyon Sturtze's from the old neighborhood in Worcester, Mass.

She was among the 81 passengers on American Airlines Flight 11 out of Boston's Logan International Airport.

The Boeing 767 took off on time but changed course suddenly over Worcester at 8:15 a.m. Thirty-three minutes later, under a hijacker's control, the plane crashed into the World Trade Center.

"My friends back home are real tight," said Sturtze, a pitcher for the Rays. "Everybody stays together. A lot of those people are sad right now because (Creamer's husband, John) has a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old. He's 30 years old and now he's a single father. Things are different."

Indeed they are.

Many hope to not know of somebody who died in New York and at the Pentagon last week, but the scale of the events make it inevitable and virtually impossible to avoid.

"We used to go into Boston to see everybody and have a great time," Sturtze said. "It's not going to be that way this time."

The 30-year-old is scheduled to start the Rays' first game since the attacks, against the Red Sox at Fenway Park on Tuesday. And he is scheduled to start on Sept. 25 at Yankee Stadium, the New York team's first game in the Bronx.

Knowing a friend's loved one was killed on a flight that originated from an airport miles from Fenway Park and playing against the Yankees in New York will make it difficult to focus.

"I think it's going to be very emotional," he said. "Right now, I'm really trying not to think about it. That's really what I've been thinking about, just trying to think about baseball.

"I know there's going to be a lot of other things going on."

Sturtze has called his mother, Linda, every day since the attacks to stay informed of the goings on at home and to relay news about Tropical Storm Gabrielle.

"But this first trip up here is going to be very nerve-racking," Linda said Sunday. "It's going to be hard for everyone."

When the events unfolded Tuesday, she tried to contact her son but couldn't dial out on her cell phone because all circuits were busy.

"I just wanted to hear his voice," she said.

He's been in her prayers every day since, including at the memorial service for Creamer on Saturday.

"It was heart-wrenching," Linda said. "I wasn't going to go but told myself I knew he would want to be there. So I went for him."

Sturtze will leave tickets for Tuesday's game at Fenway Park, to be played in front of what promises to be a mournful, yet emotionally charged crowd, for his family and a small group of friends.

"Hopefully once we get into the game, things start feeling like a game," Sturtze said. "But until that first pitch comes and until I throw my first pitch on Tuesday ... you just don't know if that's going to be the atmosphere."

Linda, naturally, is concerned about her son's safety.

When people in her office suggested baseball should resume play sooner rather than later, she offered the perspective only a player's mother could.

"I said, 'Wait a minute. My son is going to be the one out on that mound. Everybody out there is a son of somebody,' " she said. "I'm sorry, but what if there's a sniper? It's stupid to think of, but now you have to think of these things."

Those feelings aren't limited to relatives.

Everybody in the Rays clubhouse has reacted differently to Tuesday's events, which postponed games for six days, but most trust that increased security measures by Major League Baseball will suffice.

More importantly, they know they will have to continue to support each other.

"I'll be there for him," catcher Toby Hall said. "His level of emotion is probably going to be 100 times more than the rest of us."

Rays manager Hal McRae is confident that Sturtze, one of the steadiest in the team's rotation this season, can put aside his emotions and pitch well against the Red Sox.

"It's okay to think about it up until he goes to the bullpen to warm up," McRae said. "We hope he's able to separate the two at least for three hours. You don't have to forget, but you hope he can focus strictly on winning a baseball game 15-20 minutes before game time until it's concluded. If you think about it after the game, it's fine."

Drawing from his mother's advice, Sturtze understands that pitching against Boston and New York is the job he's paid to do.

The most difficult part, however, could come next week when the Rays fly from Toronto to New York.

The flight undoubtedly could take the team near the site where the World Trade Center towers once stood.

Where Creamer -- a wife, a mother and a friend -- along with thousands of others lost their lives on Tuesday.

"My shade's going to be down," Sturtze said. "I won't be looking at it. My shades will be down and I won't be watching."

NOTES: Catcher John Flaherty said the herniated disc in his neck responded well to a cortisone shot he received on Friday. He did not take batting practice during Sunday's workout. ... The Rays now know which pitchers they will face in Boston: Hideo Nomo, David Cone and Frank Castillo. ... The team has scheduled one more workout today before leaving for Boston to start an eight-game road trip in which they play the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Yankees.

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