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Tip of the cap to lost innocence

9-14-01, 4:25 p.m.

Marco Battaglia looked once. Then he looked twice.

The Red Sox fan wore a Yankees cap to Bengals practice this week and Battaglia's Queens accent and Bronx grit knew it didn't look right.

"What gives?" Battaglia asked from the sidelines.

"In your honor," the Red Sox fan said, and Battaglia nodded.

They could have backed up from Boston's Logan Airport on Black Tuesday and flown two planes through the Hancock Building or the Prudential Center. They didn't, of course.

They veered off to New York and the World Trade Center and buried alive the last vestige of American innocence in a looking glass rubble of the way we were.

It was The Twin Towers, but it might as well have been the Pru or Hancock. It might as well have been the Arch, or the Space Needle, or the Carew Tower. They were all fathers and sons and mothers and daughters.

"When I was growing up," Battaglia is saying after practice, "it was the Yankees, the Mets, the Rangers, the Islanders, the Statue of Liberty, the World Trade Center. The Twin Towers."

They just didn't kill people Tuesday. And one of them, Battaglia fears, is a dear friend. But they declared war on a way of life. The way we grew up and live.

It might as well have been the Mall of Americas, or a Miami Beach hotel, or Fountain Square.

For the first time in some 22 years, for the first time since he strapped it up for a game, for the first time in the fall, Battaglia can't keep his mind on football.

Battaglia's little league football days were spent at Gem Lumber Field on Crossbay Boulevard in Queens, just across the street from the lumberyard.

"In one of the end zones," Battaglia says, "you can look out and see the Twin Towers. People still play there. You look toward Manhattan, to the west, and the sun sets behind the Twin Towers."

For the Red Sox fan, football was Bowditch Field and the buildings of Framingham State. For Battaglia, it was Gem Lumber and the Twin Towers. What was it for you? And what would happen if it were gone?

"I've got some friends who are tough New York guys," Battaglia is saying.

"Just what you think of with New York. Tough guys. But they're just spooked by this."

Battaglia's got plenty of New York in him. He's got some scars from a few inter-borough scrapes as a youth. When he saw the front page of Thursday's USA Today sports section that had a picture of him mopping his brow as he spoke to the media after practice, he flashed a little New York.

"Damn," Battaglia is saying, "they made it look like I'm crying. New Yorkers aren't crying now. We're coming back."

But Battaglia and his family are shaken. His uncle owns a meat company on the West Side Highway near 14th Street and his cousin saw it happen from the front door.

"My family just didn't see it on TV," Battaglia says. "My cousin was a witness. He said, "Marco, It happened right in front of us. I saw that second plane actually go into the building.'

"My sister teaches school in Flushing and she saw it," Battaglia says. "She got wind of the first plane and then she saw the second one. She lives in Brooklyn, but she stayed with my Mom that night. She was devastated. We all are."

It might as well have been Disney World, or Mount Rushmore, or Union Terminal. Whatever is next door, down the street, and close to the heart.

When Battaglia drives into the city with his buddies, sometimes they play a game. They look at the skyline. There is Uptown, with the Empire State Building and the other 80-story skyscrapers. There is Soho and the Village and their two-, three-, four-story pads. And there is Downtown, which is also flat, save for the gigantic Twin Towers.

"I would ask, 'What would you buy?'" Battaglia says. "'Would you take Uptown or Downtown?"' I'd always take The Twin Towers. They come up out of nowhere. To me, that was Yankee baseball, too, with the WPIX-Channel 11 tower. Every year. Now, I don't know what to say."

A lot of people lost a lot more than a chunk of their childhood Tuesday. But that's also a reason to grieve, to reflect, and to take a week off from the games.

We all lost something even though it is Battaglia's Twin Towers that are gone.

Which is why the Red Sox fan wore a Yankees cap to practice.

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