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True Heart
Michael Bamberger
December 24, 2001
LIKE SO MANY OTHER NEW YORK CITY FIREFIGHTERS WHO DIED ON SEPTEMBER 11, MIKE CARROLL WAS A DEDICATED ATHLETE AND LOYAL TEAMMATE WHOSE INDOMITABLE SPIRIT LED HIM TO EMBRACE HIS FINAL, HEROIC MISSION. HIS YOUNG SON WOULD FIND COMFORT IN THE COMPANY OF MIKE PIAZZA
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December 24, 2001

True Heart

LIKE SO MANY OTHER NEW YORK CITY FIREFIGHTERS WHO DIED ON SEPTEMBER 11, MIKE CARROLL WAS A DEDICATED ATHLETE AND LOYAL TEAMMATE WHOSE INDOMITABLE SPIRIT LED HIM TO EMBRACE HIS FINAL, HEROIC MISSION. HIS YOUNG SON WOULD FIND COMFORT IN THE COMPANY OF MIKE PIAZZA

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At 10:00 a.m. Brown and his men heard the south tower collapse. A short while later Brown sent out a Mayday, saying his building was about to go down. That was the last word. Neither he nor any of the men with him was heard from again.

Three months later the bodies of several Ladder 3 men were found, deep within the rubble. Patty Brown's remains were discovered on Wednesday, Dec. 12. Mike Carroll's body was found the next day, a few yards from his captain's. As they had lived and worked, they had died: side by side. For the Carrolls, the discovery brought a measure of closure, another round of grief, another funeral to organize, a second one, a final one.

Two days before the attacks, on Sunday, Sept. 9, at about 5 p.m., Nancy Carroll had taken her two kids, Brendan, now seven, and three-year-old Olivia, down to Ladder 3 for a family outing. Olivia sat in the driver's seat of the truck and put on the flashing lights. Brendan slid down the fire pole. They didn't stay long; they had school the next day. It was a brief, happy family visit. It was the last time Mike Carroll and his wife and children were together.

Nancy and Mike had been together, in some manner, for more than half their lives. They began dating in high school. They were both from Yorkville. In Nancy Fox, Mike found a girl who could handle any grounder he threw at her. During their courtship they played basketball anywhere, anytime, until they were drenched with sweat.

They married in 1987 By the time they were a family of four they lived in a two-bedroom rental apartment at Third Avenue and 92nd Street, but their dream was to own a home. In the summer of 2000 they moved into a comfortable white stucco house on a quiet street in Ridgewood, N.J., 20 miles and a world away from Yorkville.

Last summer Brendan played Little League and attended a baseball camp in Ridgewood. When he received the camp's Johnny Hustle Award for showing the most heart, his father beamed. "Mike would ride Brendan pretty hard about what would fly and what would not," Nancy said recently.

She was watching Game 6 of the Diamondbacks-Yankees World Series with her mother, Grace Fox, who was visiting from 96th Street in Yorkville. Grace is a dear friend of Jean Carroll's. At least one of them has been with Nancy every day since Sept. 11. Mike's sister Nancy is at the Ridgewood house almost daily too. Bill Jr. is there three or four times a week, making the 100-mile drive from eastern Long Island, where he lives with his wife and two children. In Ridgewood he plays catch with Brendan and chases Olivia, keeping the kids giggling for as long as he can.

For Nancy the pain of Sept. 11 has not abated. "I can hear Mike talking to Brendan: 'Be attentive. Hustle. Always try. Never walk. Never complain,' " she says. "He was always talking about Jeter and Piazza with Brendan. He thought they carried themselves the right way, in everything they did, good times and bad. That's what he wanted for Brendan. That's what he was teaching him. I just hope he gave him enough of that to last."

During the 2000 World Series—the Subway Series—there was a wall between father and son, built with couch pillows. "It was hard putting up with him during that," Brendan says of his dad. All through the Series, Mike mocked his son's team. The father knew he had it made: Either his team would win, or his son's would. Like his father, Brendan is upbeat. While the Diamondbacks were stomping the Bombers in Game 6 this year, Brendan said, "At least tomorrow there'll be a Game 7!"

Before Game 6 his uncle Bill took him to a nearby batting cage. Brendan stepped in to face six tokens' worth of 40-mph Little League fastballs. That's a speed suitable for a well-coordinated 11-year-old. Brendan knocked out a long series of line drives and sharp grounders. He must have batted better than .400. "I used to bat like Derek Jeter, waving my hands way up in the air, but my dad told me to put them low and still, like Mike Piazza," Brendan says. "My dad was a great ballplayer. I miss him."

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