Manager Bobby Valentine of the New York Mets listens to...

Manager Bobby Valentine of the New York Mets listens to the national anthem before the MLB game against the New York Yankees. (June 30, 2002) Credit: Getty Images

A decade later, Todd Zeile can smell the stench of electrical fires and burning metal.

After all these years, the former Met vividly remembers the sights and sounds -- the thick black smoke, the ash and the stunned silence of helpless observers -- of Sept. 11, a day that forever changed the country.

"I'll never forget it," Zeile said during Wednesday's conference call with New York media. He, along with former manager Bobby Valentine, John Franco and Robin Ventura, recalled their memories of Sept. 11 and its aftermath.

The Mets were in Pittsburgh, about an hour from where United Flight 93 crashed into a field, when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon. With air travel suspended nationwide, the team was forced to bus back to New York.

And as the players traveled up the New Jersey Turnpike, they were broadsided by an unfathomable reality.

"Once we got over the bridge and we saw the black smoke and the spotlight on the Trade Center, there was just a sudden quietness on the bus. You could hear a pin drop," said Franco, a Brooklyn native. "Our mouths were open and just couldn't believe what we had seen."

To commemorate the 10th anniversary and to honor the victims of 9/11, the Mets again will don the caps of service agencies the night of their Sept. 11 game against the Chicago Cubs -- as they did during the remainder of the 2001 season. Franco will throw out the ceremonial first pitch to Mike Piazza and Valentine, Zeile and Ventura also will attend a pregame ceremony.

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"When we got close, where you could actually see the other side of the river on the Turnpike, it just kind of shut everything down for everybody," said Ventura, who added that Secret Service members and the bomb squad were waiting in the player parking lot at Shea Stadium. "I don't think any of us knew the enormity of it by pulling in there just because there was so much chaos."

The Mets resumed their schedule 10 days after the attacks, marking the first major sporting event in New York City since more than 3,000 people lost their lives in the tragedy. Piazza belted a two-run blast off Steve Karsay to lead the Mets to a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves.

"I remember wondering what do we do with the group," Valentine said. "If we were going to just be a Band-Aid over this gaping wound or were we going to actually make a difference."

But when Liza Minnelli sang "New York, New York" and chorus-line kicked with uniformed officers and rescue workers in the seventh inning, the Mets got their answer.

"That lifted the fans' spirits a little bit," Zeile said. "Gave pride to everybody in the stadium and sort of said it's OK to play this baseball game and try to win."

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