CLEVELAND -- A single baseball sat on an otherwise empty mound before Friday night's 2-1, 12-inning loss to the Royals. No words, no memorial and no tribute could properly place into perspective the emotional impact of Sept. 11, 2001, and the thousands of lives lost that fateful day. But the Indians used this simple, understated display to focus the attention of those in attendance at Progressive Field on all those who could not be here. This was a moment to pay respect to the lives lost and also to pay tribute to those who serve the country. It was fitting, then, that the ball was placed on the mound by Rich Mizaker, a Cleveland firefighter and former Cleveland policeman who has also served 24 years as a reservist for the U.S. Coast Guard. Mizaker has been deployed overseas four times, including two deployments to Iraq.
The Indians used the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks to pay tribute to service people like Mizaker. A public-address announcement encouraged fans in attendance to support the WelcomeBackVeterans.org program, which raises awareness for veterans as they make the transition back to civilian life. But the Tribe's Friday tribute wasn't limited to military personnel. The club honored all area first responders -- including police, fire, EMS, physicians and nurses -- by offering them half-priced tickets to the game against the Royals. The Tribe also announced the first Cleveland Indians First Responder Hero of the Year essay contest winner after the game. Dominic Soric of the Bratenahl Police Department won the award. Soric saved two women's lives in a house fire in July of this year. The two other finalists for the honor were Victor Lewis of the Cleveland Fire Department, who is also a United States Navy Reservist and was recently awarded a Bronze Star for running 40 meters through machine gunfire to administer first aid to two wounded Marines in Iraq, and Hanz Turner of the Cleveland Police Department, who prevented armed men from robbing motorists at a traffic roadblock in May. Soric received a suite night for 12, a Batting Practice Xtra experience, a radio booth visit and an autographed merchandise package. Friday's tribute ranged from the solemn (the American flag flying at half-mast) to the bombastic (a postgame patriotic fireworks display). It was the Indians' way of taking a step back from baseball and calling attention to a day that will not and should not be forgotten.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.