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Red Sox can help Boston cope
Boston intimidated me as an 18-year-old college freshman. The city seemed big and foreign and far from the small Midwestern town where I grew up. But sports helped me relate. As if an exchange student, I learned the words, the history and the traditions of my new home.
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Patriots’ Day was one of them.
“It’s one of the best days of the year,” my friend Dani Holmes-Kirk said over the phone Monday night. “It’s great, because the Red Sox game is probably the only 11 a.m. start in baseball every year. The whole city is celebrating. There’s so much pride. You have the Red Sox, who have been around so long and are so important to the city, and the Marathon, one of the most iconic runs in the world, happening on the same day.
“It’s allowing Bostonians to show what we’re about. We’re about supporting our teams, supporting each other, and the pride in our city. No matter what you have going on in life, it’s something you look forward to. Families get together. There’s so much tradition.
“It’s a day to be . . . happy.”
Happy. Dani barely coaxed the word out, as if the sheer irony stifled her breath. There was a measure of happiness for her on this Patriots’ Day: She completed the Boston Marathon on her first attempt — a deeply meaningful achievement, particularly for someone who grew up in the area.
Dani worked in baseball for the Red Sox, Giants and Cubs before taking her current job as a Weight Watchers leader. Running for Tedy Bruschi’s team to promote stroke awareness, she finished in 4 hours, 4 minutes, 8 seconds.
Five minutes later, everything changed.
“We hit Mile 26, and it was so exciting,” Dani recalled. “I was so close. As I was coming up to the finish, I saw my dad and my wife on the left-hand side. I waved to them. I was just super excited.
“My mom was on the other side of the finish line. After I crossed, I was standing in front of her, catching my breath, and heard this big bang. Honestly, at first I thought it was a celebratory Boston cannon. I had never run the Boston Marathon before. Then I turned around and saw smoke.”
A civic sports celebration had turned into an apparent terrorist attack. Dani and her family were unharmed, reuniting tearfully on Arlington Street after they were separated amid the chaos. Others were not as fortunate. The aftermath means anguish and hardship for the victims and their families, along with far-reaching uncertainty for the United States and world.
This is not at all a sports story . . . and yet, on a very basic level, it is. The evil elements behind the attack probably were drawn to this day, and this location, because of the event’s symbolism: an all-day sports festival, in the cradle of American political culture, on a holiday observing the first battles of the Revolutionary War.
A sports institution has come under attack on U.S. soil, with hauntingly similar casualty numbers to the Centennial Olympic Park bombing at the Atlanta Games 17 years ago. But the bombings have little in common beyond that.
In Atlanta, the international community was on the scene and helped the Games press forward for another week. Then the athletes and crowds dispersed before reconvening at the next host city. What happened Monday is different. Boston was hit at a time and place that define the essence of New England sports culture. The race, the revelers, the beer, the morning baseball, the springtime, the ethos of lingering for the late-finishing runners — they are touchstones of a city known for its constancy.
Monday, certainty was replaced by unease and vulnerability. That’s not Boston.
So, how will New England respond? For one thing, the games will go on. The Bruins were postponed Monday and the Celtics cancelled Tuesday, but as of now the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres are on for Wednesday at the TD Garden — in what is slated to be the first major sporting event in the city after the attack. The Red Sox are in Cleveland for three games beginning Tuesday but will return to Fenway Park Friday night.
The Red Sox could play a unique role in the development of civic resolve. They are more closely associated with Patriots’ Day than the other pro teams, because their early start is designed to allow fans to exit the ballpark and watch the leading runners pass through Kenmore Square. The bombings were an attack on their sacrosanct day, too.
And while marathoners must wait until next April to defiantly weave through Boston’s streets, baseball is played on the same interval at which the city will cope: daily.
Even as she spoke around 9 p.m., Dani acknowledged she was still wearing her race gear — more than six hours after crossing the finish line, unaware of what was about to occur. “I just can’t bring myself to take it off yet,” she told me. In such a state of regional bewilderment, New Englanders need the old routines to come back. And they will.
“The Marathon won’t happen until next year,” Dani said, “but the Red Sox will play again, and that can help allow the city to move on.”