Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ready to Play

FF Gregory Stajk was an accomplished baseball player.  He had been a sufficiently excellent pitcher - in fact - when he toed the collegiate rubber for C.W. Post that he earned more than one tryout with a big-league team.  His best, however, proved to be not quite good enough.  His boyhood dream of pitching in the Major Leagues never was realized.  

Luckily, Gregory Stajk was not born a man with just a single dream.  Influenced in part by a firefighter uncle, his other boyhood ambition was to be a firefighter.  And for almost one-half of his life, he realized that dream.  FF Stajk, who was forty-six years old when he was killed in the line of duty on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, was preparing to mark his twentieth year as a member of the FDNY.  

FF Stajk was a member of Ladder 13, the Ladder Company that is part of the force known as Engine 22, Ladder 13, 10th Battalion that protects the neighborhood on Manhattan's East 85th Street, between Lexington Avenue and Third Avenue.  FF Stajk's firehouse lost nine men on September 11 - a particularly poignant and tragic irony given his passion for baseball.   

The further removed we are from the events of that terrible day - and the equally terrible period that followed hard upon its heels - the easier it becomes for us to forget that for an all-too-brief time many of us who otherwise share no readily discernible common traits allowed ourselves to be brought together.  We did it without thinking and without weighing every angle and without conducting a cost/benefit analysis.  An example of that?  The shrine that the people who live and work in the neighborhood that FF Stajk and his brothers from Engine 22, Ladder 13, 10th Battalion serve and protect erected in memory of the firefighters whose lives were lost on September 11 and in honor of the firefighters who survived that terrible day and had to keep on keeping on and doing the job they were sworn to do.   

His neighbors' selflessness would have likely brought a smile to FF Stajk's face.  Around his firehouse, his nickname was "Bro".  He was a bachelor and while he had no wife and/or children of his own, he recognized their importance in the lives of fellow firefighters.  He made it his practice to volunteer to work on holidays so that his brothers who had children could spend the day with them.   

There is no "I" in team.  A pitcher is dependent upon his teammates, both in the field and at the plate. Long after his dream of pitching in the big leagues faded away, Gregory Stajk remained faithful to those mantras.  He carried them with him every day.  

Including September 11, 2001...

FF Gregory Stajk
Ladder 13 - FDNY


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