Keith Bodie was leaning against the back of the batting cage at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, sweat trickling from his short sideburns.
The coach had just finished throwing batting practice to the Kansas City Royals' first group of hitters that day and was now watching the second group.
The 45-year-old was living a dream. After 28 years in professional baseball — as a player and a coach — he'd finally made it to the Major League level.
Having led the Royals' Double-A team at Wichita to the playoffs for the second straight year, he was rewarded with a September call-up to the parent club as a coach.
But with every step a security guard took coming down those steps at Kaufman, that dream gave way to a full-fledge nightmare. This was September 2001 and Keith — born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. — was asked to go with the guard to the office.
There, he learned that on the previous day, Sept. 11, 2001, his cousin, Nicholas Chiofalo, a New York City firefighter, had responded after the first plane slammed into the World Trade Center. Nick last was seen entering Tower Two to help evacuate people not long before it came down.
Keith remembers as a child the day a school official walked into his class. Without the person saying anything, he knew he was there for him. And he was right. Keith went to the office where his uncle, Gasper Chiofalo, was waiting to tell him his father, Robert Bodie, a warrant officer for the New York City Police Department, had suffered a heart attack at work and died.
Getting the news
“I saw the security guard coming down the stairs in Kansas City and I'm going, ‘This guy wants me,'” said Bodie, a hitting coach this past season with the Oklahoma City RedHawks. “He comes over and goes ‘Who's Keith Bodie?'”
The guard got Bodie to a phone, where he learned of his cousin's death from his wife. His uncle had told her.
Bodie said it's important to understand that Nicholas, 39, wasn't a firefighter for the paycheck. He was a firefighter for the people of New York.
“He brought unselfishness to this world,” Keith said. “He put other people ahead of himself, always.”
Many Oklahomans lost family members that horrible day, as did many with Oklahoma ties, either then or now, such as Keith Bodie. His story is but one example of loved ones lost and memories of those loved ones cherished.
There were 10 children on Keith's mother's side of the family — “the Italian side.” They were close, and their children were close.
Just about every Friday night, the Bodies would drive from Brooklyn out to Long Island where Nick's family and some of Keith's other aunts and uncles lived and spent the weekend.
“We didn't have technology, so we'd use our imagination and play cops-and-robbers and war,” he said of the cousins.
Or, they'd start up a game of tackle football, get out the baseball gloves and play “pickle,” or find a place to crouch down in hide-and-seek.
“We are a very loving, very tight family,” Keith said. “When I got the call from my wife about Nick, I thought the world was coming to an end.”
Nick, who was a volunteer firefighter before going to work for New York City, also moonlighted as a fire chief where he lived in Selden on Long Island.
The memorial for Nick was held about a mile from the fire station in Selden.
A fire truck led a procession from the church to the firehouse for a reception. Nick's son walked immediately behind, carrying his father's helmet, with family members and family friends surrounding him. Volunteer fire departments parked engines and American flags were draped along the ladders.
Nick was gone, but the memory of a kiss remained.
In early February 2001, just before reporting to baseball's spring training, Keith traveled from his home in Arizona to the home of his mother, Katherine.
This time, instead of Keith going out to Long Island, Nick traveled to Brooklyn. They laughed and ate, then laughed and ate some more, “just exactly like when we were kids.”
As evening gave way to night, farewells were in order. But they didn't part with a handshake or a hug.
“In my family, we kiss,” said Keith, now 55, as he thought back to that moment when Nick was about to walk out the front door of the three-story home on E 70th Street.
“I kissed his cheek as we said goodbye ... just like I kissed my father's cheek the day he went off to work that last time I saw him alive.”