NEW YORK -- The second plane hit and Pedro Beato -- like so many others -- suddenly comprehended that this was no accident. The next moment, he and a friend were sneaking up to the roof of their Brooklyn high school, both shocked by what they saw and what they did not.
"I remember seeing the smoke," Beato recalled of the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. "That was all I could see. I couldn't see the buildings anymore."
Now a Mets reliever, Beato was then a 14-year-old freshman at Xaverian High School in Brooklyn, commuting from his home in Ridgewood, Queens. Like so many New Yorkers, he spent the morning of Sept. 11 scrambling on the telephone, attempting to locate his family and friends. He quickly confirmed that his parents were fine, at work, and that his sister was safe at school.
For Beato, the day's greater challenge was simply returning home, with smoke, traffic and emergency vehicles choking streets throughout the five boroughs. Had his high school coach not managed to navigate through and drive him home to Queens, it might have been hours before Beato was able to return to his family. His mother was not so fortunate, walking for miles to meet up with his father.
"A lot of chaos," was how Beato described the day. "A lot of people didn't even know where their families were at the time. The whole country just went from being very calm to being very panicked."
A borough away, Angel Pagan was sleeping at a hotel near John F. Kennedy Airport when one of his Brooklyn Cyclones teammates knocked on his door. Sept. 10 had been an eventful afternoon for the Mets prospect, who spent his off-day sightseeing in lower Manhattan near the World Trade Center.
Flipping on his television the next morning, Pagan watched the second plane hit with his teammate before climbing to the hotel's roof to watch the smoke.
"It was just a shocking experience," he said. "We were young. Seeing all that stuff, it's something that has marked my whole life."
Shortly after the attacks, the New York-Penn League cancelled its championship, freeing Pagan to return to his home in Puerto Rico. Too frightened to fly, Pagan instead drove to Miami, where he spent two weeks with a friend before finally mustering the courage to step on a plane.
"I was terrified," said Pagan, who had already paid to have his car shipped to Florida. "It took me a while to be brave enough to get on a plane. I'm telling you, it was something that I really felt."
Across the borough, Mike Baxter, now an outfielder in the Mets' system, recalls commuting from Archbishop Molloy to his home in the Whitestone section of Queens. Once safely there, Baxter remained there.
"You just didn't know what was going on," said Baxter, then a senior at Molloy. "The phones weren't working. You just tried to get in touch somehow with family."
"It's stories like that, man, where your friends are directly affected by it. Everybody had a story. Everybody knew somebody."
|-- Mike Baxter|
Like Beato, Baxter quickly confirmed that his closest family was safe. He learned only later that one of his second cousins had passed away in the attacks, and that the father of one of his former teammates, a firefighter, had stayed home that morning. Had he gone to work as usual, the man likely would have been caught at Ground Zero with the rest of his firehouse.
"It's stories like that, man, where your friends are directly affected by it," Baxter said. "Everybody had a story. Everybody knew somebody."
Though the Mets are headquartered in Queens, roughly 15 miles from the site of the World Trade Center, most of their current players were either teenagers or Minor Leaguers during the Sept. 11 attacks -- several in the Caribbean, others scattered throughout the United States. Almost all of them were thousands of miles from lower Manhattan and Shea Stadium, some watching on television when Mike Piazza hit his dramatic home run 10 days later in the city's first major sporting event following the attacks.
Along with former teammates John Franco, Robin Ventura and Todd Zeile and manager Bobby Valentine, Piazza will return to Flushing on Sunday for a memorial ceremony at Citi Field, while several current Mets -- David Wright among them -- have already paid their respects at firehouses throughout the city. Yet of the roughly three dozen players who have suited up for the Mets this season, only Beato, Pagan and Baxter were close enough to see and smell and experience the attacks as they happened.
They did not know each other at the time, nor could they have ever envisioned that they would one day all be teammates. On Sept. 11, like millions of others, they were simply three separate human beings wading through a tragedy.
"It was just tough times," Baxter said. "When you see stuff happen like that, it was very difficult."
Earlier this summer, Pagan took his two young daughters to ground zero, explaining to them what happened and how close he had come to being there himself. The reality set in for his oldest daughter only later, when she and Pagan were watching a television special on the tragedy and saw images of workers jumping from the buildings.
"I want her to understand about that," Pagan said, "that there are good people and there are bad people, and the history of it and everything."
Pagan wants his daughters, in short to understand the incomprehensible. And yet what choice does he have? The images of that day are forever etched into his memory.
"It was kind of a shocking moment," Beato said. "It was a moment where you just didn't know how to act."