McAdam: Boston weighs heavy on Red Sox minds

McAdam: Boston weighs heavy on Red Sox minds
April 17, 2013, 10:45 am
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CLEVELAND -- It was only the 13th game of a long regular season, on a dreary night in Cleveland, with a few thousand fans scattered throughout Progressive Field.
     
But for the Red Sox, it was so much more.
     
Tuesday night marked the first game since the tragedy that took place at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Patriots Day and now the eyes of the nation were on the city, and by extension, its baseball team, some 600 or so miles away, in northeast Ohio.
     
Before the game, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and DH Jonny Gomes huddled with equipment manager Tommy McLaughlin. The two asked McLaughlin to design a special uniform top to hang in the dugout in salute to the victims of Monday's attack -- and the many more left dealing with the aftermath.
     
Saltalamacchia suggested the "BOSTON" and "STRONG" lettering for the back of the jersey; it was Gomes who came up with the "617'' -- the city's area code -- in the middle. The jersey was hung in the dugout as a tribute, a statement of purpose.
     
Back home, first responders and law enforcement officials were sorting out the aftermath of the attacks. In Cleveland, the Red Sox were tasked with a different sort of responsibility: to provide a diversion from the horror that they had left behind.
     
"It's just nice to give the people back home a breath of fresh air," said Gomes, who, as he's done in previous stops, has quickly assumed a leadership role.
     
Before the game, the focus was diverted.
     
"First game of a series," explained Gomes, "there's (usually) a lot of video watching (of pitchers for preparation), but pretty much everyone was watching CNN instead of the opposing team. We got our work in, but everyone was kind of locked in, following what's going on back home."
     
In the clubhouse, the team seemed a bit conflicted, operating with both heavy hearts, yet with a collective chip on its shoulder.
     
Ordinarily, players approach gametime with a singlemindedness: to win. But on Tuesday, the Sox found themselves asking questions of themselves, attempting to put the last 24 hours in context, and with it, the nature of their own purpose.
     
What was their role? What were their responsibilities?
     
"It's tough," said Dustin Pedroia. "We've got to go out there and play baseball and everyone is thinking about real life."
     
At any other time, there would have been countless other story lines. Across the field, Terry Francona was getting ready to manage against the team for whom he worked for eight seasons. Half the Cleveland roster, it seemed, had Red Sox ties -- Mike Aviles, Justin Masterson, Matt Albers, Nick Hagadone, and Rich Hill, along with bench coach Brad Mills.
     
But none of that mattered Tuesday. This wasn't about baseball, or certainly not JUST about baseball. You hear players talk about playing for the name on the front of the uniform, not the back. On Tuesday, that wasn't just another clubhouse cliche.
     
"All our hearts," said Mike Napoli, whose bases-loaded double in the second keyed a seven-run inning that carried the Sox to their fourth straight win, 7-2, "are back there with the people in Boston and their families, everyone that got hurt. It's a sad situation."
     
If the game seemed interminable at times -- the teams combined for 15 walks and 25 strikeouts and had nearly reached the three-hour mark by the time six innings were completed -- the players found their attention wandering at times.
     
If baseball is a refuge for fans seeking to take their minds off the demands (and occasional horrors) of real life, it can sometimes be that way for players.
     
Some players become lost in the competition during difficult times and the field offers a respite where the real world can be put on hold for a few hours. But Tuesday night, there was no getting away.
     
"It's hard not to think about it," said Napoli. "You're sitting in the dugout, a long inning or something, and you think about what happened (Monday). The umpires asked me asked me about it, everyone who gets to first (base) asked about it. So yeah, I thought about it throughout the game."
     
For a night at least, there was an understanding that they weren't baseball players or pro athletes. For a city, a state, a region still trying to heal, there were, as much as anything, goodwill ambassadors.
     
They weren't home, but in a sense, they never left.
     
"This was a good way to maybe send some positive energy back toward Boston," said John Farrell. "This is fresh on everyone's mind. Even though we might not be in Boston right now, we carry this with us. We feel very much a part of the city of Boston, the community, and everything that goes on there.
     
"We have not forgotten by any means."