Cooper offers New Yorker's perspective
Pitching coach remains proud of city's reaction to attacks
ANAHEIM -- When the atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001 took place, Don Cooper was working as the White Sox Minor League pitching coordinator and was not with the Major League team as it planned to start a three-game series in New York.
But Cooper's absence doesn't mean the feelings of pain and sorrow remain any less to this day for the native New Yorker now working as Chicago's pitching coach. Much of Cooper's family, including his mother, lived about five miles across the river from where the planes hijacked by terrorists flew into the World Trade Center and eventually caused the collapse of the Twin Towers.
Seven people who went to the same high school as Cooper lost their lives during the attacks.
"When I think back, I remember turning on the TV on that morning and thinking what I was seeing was a computer enhancement or what would happen if this ever happened," said Cooper, who was born and raised in New York, attended the New York Institute of Technology and pitched for the Yankees and Billy Martin in 1985. "I knew right after that it wasn't an enactment.
"I knew years earlier these creeps had tried to blow up the [World Trade Center]. Immediately, I tried to call my mom and there was no answer. She didn't know what was going on because she went to a boot sale at a local store, but when I talked to her, she knew.
"For three days, I sat in front of the TV and was weeping because of everything that went on," Cooper added. "It really could have been a lot worse. That area is a beehive of activity at that time of the morning."
Cooper and the White Sox will be in Anaheim on Monday night, as Major League Baseball and the rest of the world remembers September 11 five years later. His thoughts on the field are focused on Jose Contreras' quest for a second straight quality start and the rotation's continued resurgence, as the White Sox push to catch either the Tigers or the Twins to reach the postseason.
A piece of Cooper's heart and soul also will be back with his hometown city, although with a direct but long-distance bridge from California. Cooper has a friend involved with the FDNY who just visited him in Chicago within the last two weeks and presented a couple of T-Shirts and a hat, which Cooper plans to wear on Monday.
"I think the world of the police and the transit cops and the EMTs and, of course, the firemen that were there at that moment during this terrible, terrible act of cowardice," Cooper said. "For those firemen and police officers and the rescue workers to get people out of the building, and for them to lose their lives, it shows you a whole lot of their character.
"New York is portrayed in a variety of ways, as having a rough exterior, being talkative and loud, whatever," Cooper added. "But I think everyone got a true indication of what they are about. When something like this hits, it brings out the best in people."
Cooper gave a great deal of credit to Rudolph Giuliani, the mayor of New York at the time. Cooper lauds Giuliani for handling the tragedies with grace and dignity but also with forcefulness and direction.
"He was a rock in all of this,." Cooper said. "He held a lot of things together. I was awful proud and impressed the way he handled himself during this whole thing. I don't know if anyone else could have handled it better than he did. He was awesome."
All of these feelings of pride put a smile on Cooper's face as he thinks about how New York came together in the face of disaster. But there are some lingering negative images that always will be too hard to shake.
Shortly after the attacks, Cooper even questioned how God could let something like September 11 and the devastation brought about to thousands of innocent people take place. It was his preacher who provided the answer, explaining how God was right next to the firemen running up the steps to save some innocent bystander's lives.
"It made me almost feel better," Cooper said. "But my mom said the next day that there was a mist, a fog, in our neighborhood that blew over. That was the buildings, the Trade Center collapsing.
"That might have been the smell of death in the air. But I was so proud of how New York bounced back, the character the people of the city showed, trying to make the best of a terrible, terrible situation."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.