BUFFALO — For the first time in more than a decade, the Mets wore first-responder hats during their game Friday against the Blue Jays, a commemoration of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Usually for the anniversary, the Mets are allowed to wear the caps honoring NYPD, FDNY and other agencies only during pregame activities. But this year, when the Mets and the MLB Players Association brought the request to MLB, the league office signed off, a sudden reversal of its longstanding policy — spurred by Pete Alonso’s minor act of subterfuge last year.
“I love this city and I love everything New York has to offer,” Alonso, wearing a Department of Sanitation hat Friday afternoon, said. “I was really excited that we get to represent all the people that saved lives and continue to save lives after that day. It’s awesome. I’m really, really happy about it. It’s still a day that we want to recognize all the people — I wouldn’t say recognize, but never forget. Never forget.”
Alonso forced the issue with his grand gesture in 2019. He said that when MLB denied his in-game hats request, he bought custom-made cleats for all of his teammates to wear instead. The red, white and blue shoes depicted images of the American flag, plus the Sept. 11, 2011, date, “We will never forget” and the lettering for first-responder agencies involved.
“Unfortunately, there's a lot of red tape with Major League Baseball, and they kind of shot that idea down,” Alonso said at the time.
After that wildly popular salute, Joe Torre — at the time MLB’s chief baseball officer — defended the policy by saying it was “just a uniformity that we try to bring to all the teams.”
“In order to be uniform and be fair to all the other teams, we try to keep the game hats on for the games,” Torre said on SNY, adding “I don't see it changing, really, in the future.”
One year later, Alonso — like a generation of Mets before him — got his wish. The 2001 Mets, in defiance of MLB, wore the first-responder hats for all of their games after the attacks that season. The team also wore the hats during Sept. 11 games in 2005 and 2007.
Alonso deflected when given credit for being the catalyst for the caps’ return.
“Eventually, they kind of had no choice,” Alonso said of MLB. “I wouldn’t say it happened under my watch, because it had to take a whole team to be OK with the cleats. … Yeah, I got them the cleats, but this is a team initiative. It’s either all or nothing.”
Last year, Alonso donated his special cleats to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum after the season. This time, he hopes to autograph the caps he wears and auction them off, with the proceeds going to relevant charities.
Alonso, who said Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon lobbied commissioner Rob Manfred, planned to rotate hats throughout the game to honor as many New York first-responder agencies as possible. In addition to NYPD and FDNY, the Port Authority Police Department, Department of Sanitation and Office of Emergency Management were all represented by the Mets.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Alonso was a 6-year-old in Tampa. He said living and working in New York City the past two seasons has given him new perspective on that day.
“It’s something that I didn’t fully understand being in Florida,” Alonso said. “Living in and being a part of the city on a day-to-day basis, immersing myself in it, that’s when I felt I started to understand it more and more.
“I’m not saying I completely understand it, because I didn’t live through that day. For me, seeing how this thing has affected fellow New Yorkers, honestly I think — it’s incredible in the worst way. I just want to represent those and recognize everybody who contributed to help save lives and make incredibly selfless decisions.”
It is not clear if this will become a new Sept. 11 tradition. But next year, on the 20th anniversary, the Mets will host the Yankees at Citi Field.
"I think we should’ve worn these hats every single time," Alonso. "But I hope every single year on this day moving forward we get to wear these hats.”