As Sox return home, Marathon again on their minds

As Sox return home, Marathon again on their minds
April 18, 2014, 11:45 am
Share This Post

There are baseball games to play this weekend at Fenway and important ones at that: four against a division rival, the Baltimore Orioles, at a time when the Red Sox are attempting to fully dig themselves out of the early-season hole they've dug for themselves.

That will the first order of business, as it should be. They may be just games, but when you're a professional athlete, that's part of the job description.

Baseball, in particular, is a six-month-long grind, with little time to pause and catch your breath.

Still, the Red Sox' attention will be divided, too. How can it not be. This weekend, the triumph and tragedy of last year's Boston Marathon will be center stage.

And that's how it should be, too.

No team -- not nationally, and not even in Boston -- was more closely associated with the city's and the region's response to the terrorist bombings that struck just over a mile from Fenway last April 15, about an hour after Mike Napoli had slugged them to a win in the annual Patriots Day matinee.

The Bruins may have been the first team to play a home game in Boston in the aftermath of that awful day, and no one will soon forget the moving tribute to the fallen and heroes that the Bruins produce. Nor will anyone forget the emotion that accompanied the crowd's full-throated singing of the national anthem that night.

But it was the Red Sox who were more closely linked -- from their show of support in Cleveland the next night, starting with the "Boston Strong'' jersey and the 617 uniform number hanging in the dugout.

When the city awoke from lockdown five days later following the manhunt that gripped the nation, there were the Red Sox -- honoring the first responders; being used as a vehicle to mourn; and representing Boston's insistence on resiliency.

And there, on the Fenway lawn, speaking from Boston, but for  the nation, was David Ortiz: "This is our (expletive) city and no one's going to dictate our freedom.''

Call it what you will: Mission statement. Collective outrage. Battle cry.

The same guy who seemingly always come through in a big moment had done it again.

Now, the whole thing is in front of the Red Sox again this weekend. ESPN will be in town for Sunday's national telecast and the spotlight will be on the Red Sox.

It will be more of the same Monday morning, when the race is run again, a statement made.

But really, the Red Sox are a symbol. They're not a baseball team this weekend. They're not even defending world champs. They're a representative for the city's survival skills.

"It will be kind of like when it happened,'' said Jonny Gomes, looking ahead while looking back, "definitely an emotional roller coaster. We want to celebrate Boston Strong, celebrate that we all came together. But then they're going to be bring out some of the victims, and then there's the four people who aren't here anymore.

"So there's your emotional roller coast -- the up and the down. It's going to be exciting, but tough. We're Boston, we're still going to run. I think we beat the situation, but [the terrorists] definitely left a dent.''

As Gomes, as associated with the ''Boston Strong'' movement as much as any athlete in town, the weekend will be "not a memorial service as much as it is a celebration of their lives and a celebration of what we still have.''

There's a democracy about a baseball season that invites more people into the conversation. There are, as Gomes pointed out, 81 opportunities to see the Red Sox in person and 162 chances to be drawn into the team from your own living room, a day-to-day theater to follow.

Last year, the Red Sox were that lifeline for some, and a 25-man expression of civic pride for others.

This weekend, they will proudly take on those responsibilities again.

Already, the Orioles have expressed a pride in being the opponent on such a momentous weekend, a small part in the healing.

"We're going to try to win and they're going to try to win,'' said Gomes. "But what the ceremony's going to stand for...the meaning of the day...isn't going to be more or less due to a win or a loss for the Red Sox. There's business in between the lines that has nothing to do with everything else.''

Baseball will bring the teams to the field and the fans to Fenway. Still, it will be a backdrop to bigger theme, a year later: Boston Strong and everyday, getting a little bit stronger.