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USPBL shortstop Skylar Mercado talks about losing his father, Steve Mercado, a member of the New York Fire Department, in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Todd McInturf, The Detroit News

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Utica — Skylar Mercado has his dad with him wherever he goes, from the number on his baseball jersey — 11, doubling the No. 1 Steve Mercado wore when playing softball in the Bronx — to the impeccably drawn tattoos, one on his left bicep that Skylar sketched out himself, and another, expansive one on his left chest.

"He was my best friend," Skylar, a shortstop for the USPBL's Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers, said while sporting a wide smile.

The smiles haven't been easy to come by over the years for Skylar, who was just 6 years old when, on Sept. 11, 2001, his mom told him him there had been a fire at the World Trade Center. Skylar went to his grandmother's while his mom raced to the towers, searching for answers.

Skylar didn't grasp what was happening. He just knew there was a fire, and dad, the superhero, would save the day. He always saved the day, and was home in time for dinner. And he saved at least one woman that day, helping her out of the first tower.

But nobody could save Steve, who was killed while racing up that second tower, when the second tower collapsed. His remains were never found. Skylar didn't come to grips with the grim reality until two months after the terrorist attacks, at the memorial service.

"I realized," said Skylar, "he wasn't going to be coming home."

Video: Skylar Mercado talks about Sept. 11, 2001, the day his father, who worked for the New York Fire Department, died in the terrorist attacks.

Steve Mercado — husband, father of two, member of Engine 40/Ladder 35, wearer of New York Fire Department badge No. 11632, avid stickball player — was 38.

Last Friday would have been Steve's 55th birthday, as Skylar sat in the owner's box at Jimmy John's Field, home of the United Shore Professional Baseball League.

Skylar, 23, and with grand baseball visions — he recently took the firefighter's test, but calls that Plan C, after Plan A (baseball) and Plan B (baseball again) — sat down with The Detroit News to discuss that Tuesday morning 17 years ago, what life was like in the immediate aftermath, the dark days that followed, and what life is like today.

"My dad played growing up, he played softball for the firehouse, he introduced the game to me," Skylar. "He always thought I could become a major-leaguer one day."

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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