BOSTON — On the eve of the first Boston Marathon since a pair of explosions killed three people and injured hundreds more near the finish line of the 2013 race, the Boston Red Sox paid tribute to those impacted by the attacks with a heartfelt pregame ceremony that brought tears to the eyes of an impassioned crowd at Fenway Park.
Backed by a live performance by the University of Massachusetts marching band and the Boston Pipers Society and with a giant American flag covering the Green Monster in left field, the team honored Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell and Lingzi Lu — the three spectators killed by the explosions last April 15 — as well as fallen MIT police officer Sean Collier, who was killed in the aftermath of the blasts.
"The Green Monster is Fenway, and to come in and see that American flag draped over it, it took my breath away," said Woody Harrell, 66, of Corinth, Miss. "Seeing all the sports teams pulling together and supporting the marathon and supporting the victims, that was really something. … And to be here on Easter with this whole triumph over death, tying that in with last year and turning back fear, it was just very powerful."
While the bands played "Highland Cathedral," a group of first responders who were on duty as last year’s events unfolded entered the field from the first-base line to be honored. Moments later, a cavalcade of marathon survivors wearing matching Red Sox jerseys with Boston’s 617 area code on the back emerged from the left-field corner.
Boston Marathon victim Jeff Baumann and good samaritan Carlos Arredondo (hand on cowboy hat) walk onto the field as part of pregame ceremonies at Fenway Park.
"Just seeing the people who were there at the finish line, the people who you saw on TV and made it real last year and were obviously affected — it was nice to just give them that moment," said Matt Cloutier of Salem, N.H. "Here, where we’re so close to where it actually happened, I thought it was really touching."
As fans along the outfield wall held up large canvases with messages of good will from supporters from each of the 50 states and every major league team — including a team-signed banner from the Baltimore Orioles, Boston’s opponent Sunday — another group of marathon participants, volunteers and fundraisers from One Fund Boston emerged from behind the center-field wall to be recognized.
"It was amazing, it was awesome — very moving," said Steve Stoddard, a board member for One Run for Boston who was on the field for the ceremony. "It was wonderful to see the closeness. We knew each other because we’d been working together to make people feel better and help them out, so that’s really what it was all about, and that was a huge closure for us."
Even more awesome, though, was the scene behind the scenes both before and after the ceremony played out.
"Everybody who was on the field felt the warmth from the crowd, and that mimicked the feeling that we all had — the love, the warmth," Stoddard said. "If you could have seen the stage underneath center field, what you would have seen is people from a thousand different backgrounds, a thousand different places and everybody had nothing but a smile, a hug and a word of encouragement. That’s what it was all about to all of us.
"Whether it was the UMass band, the state police bagpipe band — whoever it was, everybody sat there hugging. Everyone was just in such a jovial mood, and it felt like everybody was back."
With the procession stretching from the left-field line across to the right-field line, the two teams then took to their respective base paths, standing at attention as the national anthem boomed from the bands in center field. And after David Ortiz caught the first pitch from Jim Gallagher, president of One Fund Boston — which raised $80 million for marathon victims — the family of Lingzi Lu, making their first appearance at Fenway Park since Lu’s death, stood near home plate and urged the players and crowd to "play ball."
Family members of Lingzi Lu, who died during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, respond to the Fenway Park crowd.
"Our passion for our town and our compassion for our people has only made us stronger," Red Sox PA announcer Henry Mahegan said in his address to the crowd. "We have been lifted by an outpouring of love from all over the world."
In a fitting ending to a perfect night, the Red Sox rallied for a 6-5 win over the Orioles, with Dustin Pedroia scoring the game-winning run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. But for those touched by the pregame festivities and those running in Monday’s race, the score was mostly an afterthought.
"It’s been 39 years, but after last year, I had to come back," said Harrell, who ran Boston in 1975 and is back for the first time since. "Boston is just very special. It’s my marathon just like it’s everyone’s here. And to be back and reclaim it and be part of what’s going to be the biggest celebration of long-distance running, it’s an honor and I’m just real tickled to do it."
Taking back Boston — it was the theme Sunday night and will be the theme Monday as more than 36,000 runners embark on the quest from Hopkinton to Boylston Street. Marathon weekend has been "Boston Strong" personified, but after a year of mourning and a year of healing, you’d expect nothing less.
"If something bad happened to your sister or your brother, if something like that affected them, how would you feel?" Cloutier said. "I think that’s how everybody, universally, felt (last year), and that’s why the city came together, because we were all family that day."
Added Stoddard: "We’re resilient, we’re strong and nobody is going to mess with us, but at the end of the day we’re going to take care of our own. Our own are what’s most important, and that’s really what Boston is all about."