NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Twenty years ago, the Mets helped New York’s return to normalcy with the first sporting event after 9/11. Every year since, they honor firefighters lost that day with a visit to a local firehouse.

The mantle is filled with faces of firefighters who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001. The firehouse is home to the FDNY‘s Engine 3/Ladder 12/Battalion 7 — the “West Side Warriors.” It lost five men.

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“I’m here to pay respects, that’s for sure,” said former Mets relief pitcher John Franco, who played for the team from 1990-2004. “The men and women, every day they put their lives on the line. When they leave their families, they’re not sure they’re coming home at night. Because of them, all of us New Yorkers can sleep comfortable at night.”

Mike Piazza 9/11 homer

Mike Piazza homers against the Atlanta Braves on Sept. 21, 2001. (Photo by Matt Campbell/AFP/Getty Images)

Franco was on the mound the night baseball brought New York back to life, with one swing of Mike Piazza‘s bat — a two-run home run in the eighth inning that powered the Mets to a scintillating 3-2 win over the rival Atlanta Braves, CBS2’s Steve Overmyer reported.

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Every year since, the Mets have helped pay tribute to members of the FDNY. The firehouse visits are a reminder that sports is a distraction, and that the firefighters are the real heroes.

“Between the police and the fire department and what they did during 9/11 when all the people were running out of the buildings, these gentlemen and ladies and men were running into the building trying to save lives,” Franco said.

“It means a lot to show support. It shows us that the community cares for us. We like to give back to the community and show our support back to them, so it means a lot to us,” said Juan Black of Ladder 12.

It has been two decades, but the Mets’ moment remains frozen in time as the start of the healing process. Thursday’s visit was a validation that those lost are never forgotten.

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The Mets and Yankees will play at Citi Field on Saturday, but before first pitch there will be a special ceremony starting at 7 p.m.

Steve Overmyer