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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Dominic Smith, Aaron Boone bring emotional lift amid social injustice in America

New York Mets' Dominic Smith celebrates after hitting

New York Mets' Dominic Smith celebrates after hitting a go-ahead solo home run off New York Yankees relief pitcher Chad Green in the sixth inning of the first baseball game of a doubleheader, Friday, Aug. 28, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) Credit: AP/John Minchillo

The Subway Series finally resumed Friday under an uneasy truce. Not between the Mets and Yankees, but one involving New York’s two baseball teams and a racially polarized nation still struggling to establish justice for all.

The fact that the opening doubleheader fell on Jackie Robinson Day this year only intensified those roiled-up feelings, brought sizzling to the surface yet again this week by the police shooting of a 29-year-old Black man named Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

A day earlier, after some unfortunate, caught-on-video front-office jostling, the Mets staged a powerful tribute at Citi Field, where they joined with the Marlins for a 42-second moment of silence, then walked off in unison.

That was brought on, or at least nudged forward, by the moving image of Dominic Smith breaking down in mid-interview while talking about Wednesday night’s decision to take a knee during the national anthem. Smith, voice cracking and tears flowing, was reduced to pure, raw emotion.

“I think the most difficult part is to see that people just don’t care and for this to continuously happen, it just shows the hate in people’s heart,” Smith said then. “That just sucks, you know? Being a Black man in America is not easy.”

Smith referred to baseball as his “safe haven.” So it seemed fitting that when he returned to the plate on Jackie’s Day, all that emotion was transferred to a 98-mph fastball from Chad Green, a pitch that Smith deposited into the Yankees’ bullpen for his team-leading seventh homer. The Mets went deep three times in that sixth inning as Smith was joined by Pete Alonso and Jake Marisnick to deliver a 6-4 comeback victory in Game 1.

“I really respect the way he carries himself on and off the field,” said Mets starter Michael Wacha, who was bailed out in part by Smith. “It’s inspirational. It’s an honor to be around him and be one of his teammates.”

“With what he’s lived with the past two days and what we’ve lived with supporting him, it’s special, for sure,” Mets manager Luis Rojas said.

Earlier Friday, it was a Yankee who was overcome by the moment, roughly two hours before the game’s first pitch. Manager Aaron Boone, fresh off an hour-long clubhouse meeting on racial-justice issues, already appeared a bit shaken, wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and a cap pulled uncharacteristically low.

Boone plowed through the first few baseball questions. But when the manager was asked about his two Black teenage sons, both adopted from Haiti, Boone’s head sank and he sobbed into his left hand.

Unable to speak, Boone got up and left the Zoom call. It took him another four minutes to return on camera, but even longer to compose himself.

“It’s just been a hard and heavy year,” Boone said. “And a heartbreaking year in so many ways. And for my family, too, but I think that’s the case for a lot of people of all different backgrounds and races. So my prayer is just that we continue to, even though we’re going through some dark times, that at the end of this, we’re better. We’re better for it. And that’s my continued prayer.”

The Yankees were off Thursday, so they didn’t have the opportunity to join the Mets and the 11 other teams that chose not to play for the additional night of leaguewide protest. Last month, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks took a knee for the anthem during Opening Weekend in D.C.

Boone said there was no discussion about sitting out Friday’s Subway Series opener, though he did acknowledge that many of his players were having a difficult time.

“It’s not a time to just shut up and swing, shut up and dribble,” Stanton said. “This is the time to take reality for what it is and start helping to make a damn change because this is unacceptable what’s been going on. And it hurts, man.

“It’s been tough,” Stanton said. “You see it time and time again and you wonder when is it going to stop. When are people finally going to listen?”

  

  

  

  

  

  

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