9/27/2001 3:00 am ET

Junior's homer touches New York firefighter's wife
Katrina Marino had asked Junior to "hit an extra homer" for missing husband

By Rick Ferguson

This is how I came to talk to Katrina Marino.

On Sept. 11, from approximately 7:45 a.m. until about 8:10 a.m., Katrina Marino visited her husband Kenny at the Rescue Company 1 unit of the Fire Department of New York City at the Company's station, address 530 West 43rd St., Manhattan. With her were the couple's two children, Kristin and Tyler.

"For some reason, we were lucky enough to see [Kenny] that morning," said Katrina. The children were able to ride on "dada's" fire truck one last time.

When she drove away from the fire station with her two children, leaving Kenny behind, Katrina saw the first plane, American Airlines flight 11, a Boeing 767 en route from Boston to Los Angeles with 81 passengers and 11 crew members on board. It flew right over her head when she was stopped on 24th Street and 6th Avenue.

At approximately 8:45 a.m., an alarm was transmitted for a report of an aircraft that had crashed into the World Trade Center One, to which Rescue Company 1 was assigned. Kenny left with his company and was among the first firefighters to arrive on the scene.

Eighteen minutes after the first crash, a second aircraft, United flight 175, a Boeing 767 en route from Boston to Los Angeles with 56 passengers and nine crew members, slammed into the South tower.

Ninety minutes later, both towers collapsed in the most horrific scene of destruction ever witnessed on American soil. Over 6,000 people, including Kenny and six members of his Rescue Company 1, were trapped in the rubble. They would be presumed missing for nearly two weeks. Now they are presumed dead.

"[Rescuers] found four Rescue 1 firefighters in Kenny's crew, not alive," said Katrina. "They still haven't found Kenny and two others who were supposed to be with him."

Kenny Marino was a lifelong baseball fan. He idolized Ken Griffey Jr. Several years ago, when Junior played center field for the Seattle Mariners, Kenny and Katrina took in a game, and Kenny passed Griffey an FDNY T-shirt for Griffey's son Trey.

"We had two pictures in our bedroom," said Katrina. "One was of our daughter, and one was of Ken Griffey Jr."

Kenny was also a fan of the Strat-o-matic Baseball game, the venerable baseball board game enjoyed by fans as far back as the days of Mickey Mantle. Kenny played in three different Strat leagues and was especially proud that Griffey was on his team.

When Katrina found out that her husband was counted among the missing, she logged on to his e-mail account and sent the word out to his Strat league buddies. They started dialing Kenny's beeper number, hoping to get a response. There was none. Barring a miracle, Kenny is at peace, buried somewhere beneath the World Trade Center rubble.

Fast forward to Saturday, Sept. 22. Katrina, thinking of Kenny's love for baseball and admiration of Griffey Jr., sent a message to the Cincinnatireds.com Web site. The message said:

"My husband Kenny Marino a Rescue 1 firefighter is still missing. Ken Griffey Jr. was his favorite baseball player - If Ken Griffey Jr. could hit an extra homerun for Kenny - I know he will be looking down with a big grin."

I read the e-mail on Monday and forwarded it to Rob Butcher, the Reds director of media relations, that night. It was a sensitive e-mail, requiring a delicate touch, and no one I know has a better sense of decorum and propriety than Rob Butcher. He'd know best how to handle it.

In Philadelphia on Tuesday, the Reds were preparing to open their three-game series against the NL East-contending Phillies. Rob printed out the e-mail and forwarded it Griffey, who read it before that night's game. He knew that it wasn't possible to hit home runs on demand -- it wasn't even possible for one of the greatest sluggers of all time.

But in the fourth inning of that game, Griffey did hit his 21st home run of the season off David Coggin. He went back to the dugout and thought about the e-mail from Katrina Marino.

"It didn't hit me until I was sitting in the dugout," said Griffey. "I thought, 'Man, I just hit a home run.' The only person who knew [I would hit the homer] was the man upstairs. I guess he's the reason for it. Of all the tragedies that happened that week, I managed to do something to make someone smile and feel good about something at a time when they lost somebody."

Wednesday afternoon, I found myself dialing the phone number listed on Katrina's Web site. I was supposed to interview her about Griffey's home run. I knew she had heard about it because the Cincinnati beat writers had already written about the connection between her husband and Junior's homer, and Rob Butcher had e-mailed her about it.

But I don't mind telling you that I was nervous. What do you say to a woman to whom the unthinkable had happened?

A family member answered the phone. I told him my name, that I was a reporter for Cincinnatireds.com, and that I hoped to speak to Katrina. "Just a minute," he said. A moment later, Katrina was on the phone. She sounded pleasant and sweet, but a little tired.

I gave her my condolences for her loss. She thanked me. "Of course," she said when I asked her if she would mind talking about her husband's fondness for Ken Griffey Jr., and for baseball. "I'm sure Kenny would be happy about it."

We talked a lot about baseball.

"Kenny was an original Mets and Mariners fan," she said. "He used to test me about the Mariners, about the Big Unit and about [Jay] Buhner."

How has Katrina coped these past two weeks? How did Junior's homer affect her life? Did it make a difference? Did it help her in some small way?

" I wish I had seen it," Katrina said of the homer. Later, in an e-mail, she said, "It's been a crazy past two weeks, and Kenny is still missing. It's hard to see life go on around us. And it's the special things that remind me of Kenny -- his love of sports, holidays and of course his children. But, these are also the things that give me that empty feeling in my heart, since we can't share these things together anymore."

And so lives are touched in strange ways. A senseless mass murder occurs. Kenny Marino is lost to his family forever. Katrina sends her e-mail, and suddenly her life, Ken Griffey Jr.'s life, Rob Butcher's life and my life are all connected by a home run that otherwise would have merited no more than a brief mention in the Tuesday game recap.

"This family has lost something that they'll never get back," said Griffey. "I was able to give them a moment of happiness at a time when they needed to smile."

Griffey plans on visiting the Marino family the next time he makes it to New York. He's sending Katrina the autographed bat he used to hit Tuesday's homer, an autographed scoresheet from the game, an autographed copy of the Philadelphia Daily News, videotapes and audiotapes.

"I'm looking forward to meeting them," said Griffey. "I'm sending them the bat. I can get another bat, that's no big deal. This is the bat that I hit the home run with. I'd be honored if they accepted it from me."

I can really do or say nothing that could mean anything to Katrina. But I offered to forward her a digitized video clip of Griffey's homer, and that seemed to make her happy.

"I'll forward it to all of Kenny's Strat-o-matic buddies," she said.

I was glad to talk to Katrina Marino. But all things being equal, I wish I had never heard of her. Because that would mean that September 11 never happened.

Rick Ferguson is the site manager for Cincinnatireds.com. Andy Shenk, site manager for Phillies.com, contributed to this report.

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