Eleven years later, GM Williams remembers White Sox in NYC on 9/11

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist

CHICAGO -- Not far from where the planes slammed into the buildings, the urgent wake-up call blasted through the darkness of a midtown Manhattan hotel room.

From his seat in the White Sox home dugout 11 years later, a far-away look clouds Kenny Williams' eyes.

The Sox hadn't even arrived in New York until 4 a.m. following a night game in Cleveland. Now, when they were supposed to be sleeping, the Sox director of team travel was phoning with the unspeakable news.

Williams, then in his first season as Sox general manager, remembers they were staying at a hotel at Grand Central Station. He remembers the unforgettable wake-up call that came shortly after the second plane hit the World Trade Center.

He remembers the fear and the chaos. He remembers the realization that who knew what would happen next, and Grand Central Station could be a terrorist target, and so the decision was made to gather the White Sox traveling party, immediately, in the hotel lobby and come up with a plan to get out of there.

"Then a car came in front of the hotel, a taxi cab, and all four doors flung open and the driver started running down the street," Williams says. "So a cop yells, 'Everybody off the street! Go into the hotel, or up into your rooms!

"So en masse, we started walking toward Central Park."

Nothing made sense that day.

There would be no game in Yankee Stadium that night.

There would be no baseball games, anywhere, for a week.

There were phone calls with Major League Baseball security. Airports were closed. The White Sox arranged to bus to Minnesota, where they were scheduled to play next.

Next day, 9/12, the bus carrying the White Sox rolled through Manhattan and away from the nightmare.

Except, as it approached the bridge into New Jersey, police stopped that bus.

Here are a couple of nurses who have been working all night at Ground Zero, the police told the White Sox. They need to get home. They live in New Jersey. Would you give them a ride across the bridge?

Absolutely, the White Sox said.

So the two exhausted nurses boarded the White Sox bus. One of them sank into a seat next to Williams.

"They were covered in soot and blood. You could smell the day on them," Williams remembers. "I looked into one of the nurses eyes and asked, 'Are you going to be all right?'

"She looked at me with the saddest eyes ever and said, 'I'll never be the same. It is so sad.'"

On the other side of the bridge, the nurses' families were waiting as the bus rolled to a stop.

Hold on a moment, Williams told the bus driver after the nurses had disembarked. Just hold on a moment.

"We watched their families greet them," Williams says. "It was unbelievable.

"That's still etched in my mind."

The bus rumbled on toward Minnesota. But everybody knew, there could be no baseball yet. Somewhere along the way, Commissioner Bud Selig said no, no baseball yet.

So the bus veeredaway from Minnesota, toward Chicago, and home. Along the way, it swapped drivers twice. Union rules only allow so many hours of driving, so a relay team steered the White Sox home. The ride lasted 16 or 17 hours, Williams remembers.

The next week, in a changed world, the games started anew. On Tuesday, Sept. 18 -- one week after the horrible day -- the White Sox hosted the Yankees.

"Best national anthem I've ever heard was on the first day back," Williams says. "I can't recall the woman's name now, but it is still the most chilling national anthem I've ever heard."

Williams still has his ticket stub from that game.

"Not as a memento," he says. "It's a reminder.

"Every time I see it, I can almost smell the smoke in the air from that day."

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