If there was any doubt that sports and athletic competitions are more than pure entertainment, the Mets-Braves showdown Friday erased it.

?We told the rest of the country, the rest of the world, what New York is about,? New York Met Mike Piazza said in the Boston Globe.

Piazza was on track. The match-up at Shea Stadium in New York was a true display of the United States ? our resilience, our compassion, our pride and our sense of appreciation to all those who tuned in around the world. Most importantly, it demonstrated how much the American people have grown up.

After all, it was hard to believe that just a week or so ago, in the days after the tragedy, Shea wasn?t filled with professional baseball players preparing for the end of the season.

Instead, the stadium was a drop-off location for food and work supplies for the rescue workers just several miles away. And as the solemn domain is transformed into a competitive arena once again, we are amazed at how so much change can occur in so little time.

The NYC miniature skyline atop the monstrous scoreboard in right-center field at Shea was missing a couple of lights Friday.

But there was no darkness amongst the landmarks ? terrorists can tear up our soil, but not our minds. A red, white and blue ribbon covered what were the toy twin towers on the display. Along with it, a magnificent American flag flew where the giant Budweiser logo once stood. And no ? we are not simply demonstrating our pride for beer.

The crowd of about 41,000 strong also felt a sense of security and heightened awareness ? a sentiment many of those in my generation have never experienced. Flight patterns in and out of the airport were changed to eliminate air traffic over the ballpark. Bottles and backpacks were searched and forbidden due to increased security ? all with very little complaint. The fans knew that they were going to carry out of the stadium a whole lot more than they had brought in.

After all, it is not often that the game opens with a 21-gun salute and Diana Ross singing ?God Bless America.? Nor have the Major League Baseball players ever been adorned with New York Police Department hats and gear. And although the national anthem has been sung and heard before every game prior to that night, it had never infused so much passion for sports in America?s heart.

So many changes ? yet so little at the same time.

Because, if you think that that this was not a competitive game, think again. Piazza?s turn on a 96-mile-per-hour fastball in the eighth inning should shatter that thought. He smacked the ball over the center-field fence for a game-winning two-run homer over the Atlanta Braves ? bringing a sense of victory once again to the city that seemed so defeated just a week before.

Baseball, like all other professional sports, is back ? helping the country heal, proving that the hole punched in our hearts has not damaged our spirits.

Weird to say, but it was actually comforting to see that Atlanta?s Chipper Jones still got booed at bat. And soon, the cheers for Yankee fan Mayor Rudy Giuliani will soon turn to the usual jeers ? nothing personal, just friendly rivalry.

Since Sept. 11, this country has struggled to find a way to regain a sense of ?normalcy? ? all the while, not really knowing exactly what that is.

But on the way there, sports has helped put reality into perspective and remind us that normal is what we create of it. No matter what we do, things will never return to ?the way it was? ? and we should never attempt such a feat.

So my advice? Don?t turn to athletics for diversion from thought or from mourning. Instead, embrace it as a lesson learned and one never to be forgotten. Sports has taught us for years to let nothing take away our desire to compete, our tenacity to achieve our best and our ability to stand tall and proud. Once you digest that thought, you will define red, white and blue.

Wu can be reached at jwu@campustimes.org.

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