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Cubs players reflect as they return to New York amid tighter security

Josh Thole Carlos Pena

Josh Thole, Carlos Pena

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Updated: November 24, 2011 12:25AM

NEW YORK — His Pittsburgh Pirates were supposed to go to New York the week the game — and the skies — went dark.

Three weeks later, the Pirates played the first rescheduled games in the city where the rubble still smoked and smoldered at Ground Zero.

“I was just in shock like everybody else,’’ said Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who was in his first full season as a starter with Pittsburgh in 2001. “Coming from the Dominican, I’d never seen something like that.

“I didn’t even know what ‘terrorist’ meant back then.’’

As the Cubs take the field tonight in New York on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the city is on heightened alert, with Mets and Cubs officials already having been briefed on details of a possible threat and on contingency plans if anything happens.

Amid increased security this weekend, the Cubs say they aren’t nervous being in New York.

“These people do a phenomenal job,’’ manager Mike Quade said of the New York police and other security. “And isn’t part of the deal that they win if you’re nervous? They ain’t winning.

“They’ve done everything they can to keep people safe, and they’ve done it here for a long time.’’

That includes an enormous police presence in Manhattan, where the team is staying, and extra security checks and changes in drop-off procedures at CitiField, including the team bus being stopped for extra screening Saturday.

“We feel pretty calm and pretty confident that everything is being taken care of,’’ first baseman Carlos Pena said. “Obviously, we’re also aware of the situation and everything that’s going on. But besides taking the normal, natural precautions that any reasonable human being would take, I think we’re just going about our business the same way.’’

The nationally televised game Sunday night will feature a lengthy ceremony honoring military personnel, victims of the 9/11 attacks and rescue and recovery workers. Some players planned to visit the Ground Zero memorial Saturday night; some already had

For Quade, who was on the coaching staff of the Oakland Athletics team that played the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs in 2001, the emotions and scenes from those few days a decade ago remain vivid. When he went onto the field, Quade made a detour to find then-New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani and shake his hand.

“It’s hard to even describe the feeling then,’’ Quade said. “A couple of days in the playoffs and going through all that, the emotions that were involved. There’s certain things that are left with you for life, and obviously that’s one of them.’’

Ramirez remembers waking up in Pittsburgh the morning of the attacks and finding his voice-mail box full.

“My mom called me like a thousand times [from the Dominican],’’ Ramirez said. “She was worried because of the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. She thought it was close. She didn’t know. It wasn’t that close, but it wasn’t that far either.’’

Flight 93 crashed in a field 80 miles from Pittsburgh, close enough for Ramirez, who went to Ground Zero with friends from New York when he got to the city a couple of weeks later.

“It was sad to see all the pictures of the missing people, pictures of the victims,’’ he said. “That wasn’t fun.’’

Quade said he doesn’t plan to say much to his team today beyond some of the security basics.

“It’s funny because I was thinking about some of the kids that may be in the lineup [tonight],’’ said Quade, who plans to rest Ramirez, Pena and several other veterans to play a younger lineup. “And they were 10 or 11 or 12. . . . I don’t think it’s upon me to inject my thoughts on it. Everybody’s aware of where we’re at and what took place. And we’ve got a baseball game to play, and we take a moment to remember what took place, and then we get after it.’’

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