On the morning of September 11, 2001, the National League East was still up for grabs. Having taken three of four games against the Marlins, the third-place New York Mets squad was within five games of its division rival, the Atlanta Braves, and set to start a series against the awful Pittsburg Pirates that evening.
But the excitement of a promising playoff run was suddenly interrupted -- everything was -- at 8:46 a.m. when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. Shortly thereafter, United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the south tower. Next, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. And then finally, United Airlines Flight 93, likely headed toward Washington D.C., went down in an open Pennsylvania field.
America had been attacked. But it hadn't been defeated.
On September 21, the Mets made an emotional return to Shea Stadium to open up a series against the Braves, bringing baseball back to New York City for the first time since the attack earlier that month.
The team asked native New Yorker and All-American salsa crooner Marc Anthony to sing the "Star-Spangled Banner" that night, setting up what would become one of the most poignant renditions of our country's national anthem in professional sports history.
Of course, Anthony didn't know that 12 years later he'd have to defend his citizenship and patriotism at the Mets' home field after singing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch of the 2013 MLB All-Star Game.
"Why'd they ask me to do it?" Anthony asked, incredulously repeating a reporter's question following his All-Star appearance. "Because I'm as American as apple pie. I was born and raised in New York."
The two-time Grammy winner had just delivered a stellar performance in front of his hometown crowd, unaware that as loud as his beloved New York City crowd cheered for him, ignorant knuckleheads on Twitter were attacking Major League Baseball's decision to "have a spic," as one bigot tweeted, sing "God Bless America."
(Coincidentally, the song was written by a Russian-born composer, Irving Berlin, who moved to New York City as a young boy with his family and became one of those most celebrated songwriters in American history, a true embodiment of the American Dream.)
Understandably, Anthony was dumbfounded.
"That's sad in this day and age, especially with Google," he opined. "I was born and raised in New York. I'm as American as they come; I'm as Puerto Rican as they come. And for those who don't know, Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, no passport needed."
On the morning after the All-Star game, he appeared on LIVE with Kelly and Michael to promote his world tour.
Reflecting on what a great honor it was to perform "God Bless America" in front of thousands inside the stadium and millions across the world, Anthony only brought up the hateful remarks so that he could "set the record straight" and call out the bigotry that still plagues this country.
"'How'd they get somebody from another country to sing "God Bless America?'" Anthony said, referring to one of the popular criticisms.
"I was like, 'Huh?'" he joked, glancing over both shoulders with a puzzled look on his face. "I looked behind me [to see who they were talking about], because it wasn't me."
Marc Anthony. Friday and Saturday, August 23 and 24. American Airlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. The shows start at 8 p.m. and tickets cost $59 to $179 plus fees via ticketmaster.com. Call 305-960-8500 or visit aaarena.com.
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