As the Evans family made their way to Fenway Park on Saturday, they passed a row of police motorcycles, part of a strong police presence around the stadium. Catching the wide-eyed stares of 6-year-old twins Shane and Shannon, one officer asked if they wanted to sit on his bike. Their eyes grew wider still.
Looking on, Steve Evans let a tired smile cross his face. Five days had passed in a jagged blur, a haze of shock and grief and finally, late Friday, a sweet measure of relief with the capture of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect. And renewed hope that life, and a shaken city, would in time find their way back.
With a day of baseball beckoning, that faith seemed freed from doubt, fans said. For the first time since the Marathon bombings that left three dead and more than 170 injured, the Red Sox were home, and home felt a bit more familiar. The Sox game Friday night had been canceled because of the search for 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a manhunt that put the Boston area under siege.
“Just forget,” said Evans, 44, smiling at his children as the officer hoisted them onto the seat. “Forget about the madness for a while.”
Across the ballpark, that search for comfort and escape mixed with a weary resolve. Meeting outside the game, families and friends held their hugs a bit longer, and shared tired looks. Fan after fan thanked the police patrolling the area, and some offered tickets in gratitude. When one group of police drove away, the crowd burst into cheers.
Beer flowed, but long draughts ended in sighs. Everything felt subdued, and a step slower.
“It’s the first step in a long healing process,” said Owen O’Neill of Mansfield.
Even the most loyal fans admitted they had barely thought about the Red Sox in recent days, but said they felt a strong tug from Fenway. After days of manhunts and lockdowns, they wanted to reclaim a part of their normal lives, many said, and be part of something bigger than themselves.
“This is a place where people come together,” said Robin Montvilo, 60. “It’s a place where people belong.”
Amid lingering grief, that solidarity and collective resolve was on full display. Outside the park, fans snatched up “Believe in Boston” banners and “Boston Strong” signs, while volunteers collected money for The One Fund, the central charity for victims of the bombing.
A day after the capture of the second bombing suspect, the game felt like a new beginning, and some fans spoke of a burden lifted.
“Everyone’s very relieved,” said Rita Boudreau, young grandchildren in tow. “It’s a happy day.”
Many fans went out of their way to thank law enforcement personnel, who were out in force for the game. On his way into the park, Walter Tom asked a group of military and police officers if his son, Nathan, could be in a picture with them. They were happy to oblige.
“It’s going to be a long recovery,” Tom said. “But we’re going to heal.”
For others, emotions were still raw. Nani McDonnell of Lexington fought back tears as she recalled the past few days, and how it felt to be at Fenway. She had run the Marathon in past years, and the shock of the attack hadn’t lifted.
“It’s all really close for us,” she said, as the Fenway organ played “Let the Sun Shine In.”
Heather Hathaway handed out water at the Marathon on Monday, just past the finish line. During the Friday lockdown, she stayed inside all day, watching hour after hour of news coverage. As soon as police captured the second suspect, she knew she was Fenway-bound.
“That’s why I’m here,” she said, wearing a Marathon volunteer jacket. “Boston strong.”
For many fans, how the Red Sox fared was secondary.
“I’m more excited for the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ than I am for the game,” O’Neill said. “It’s going to be magical. The whole city’s going to rise to the occasion.”
That proved undeniably true. In a moving pregame ceremony, the fans sang the national anthem together, their voices rising as one. They sang softly at first. But as the moments passed, the sound grew stronger.
As they sang, one broad-shouldered man in a Dustin Pedroia jersey looked to the sky, while his son looked up at him. A middle-aged woman, overcome by the moment, lowered her head, her hair flowing down like a weeping willow.
Before the anthem, fans stood and cheered as a video montage, set to the song “Hallelujah,” showed a series of vivid images from recent days, from the scene at the bombings to the capture in Watertown.
The ceremony paid tribute to Marathon volunteers, who lined the outfield, and police officers, who received wave after wave of applause. Matt Patterson, an off-duty firefighter from Lynn who rushed to the aid of a young boy, and Steven Byrne, who was injured in the blast, threw out the first pitch, as did Marathon legends Dick and Rick Hoyt.
And when David Ortiz, returning to the field from an injury, took the field to address the crowd, the fans roared in approval. When he declared defiantly that this “is our [expletive] city, and nobody is going to dictate our freedom,” they roared all the more.
The Federal Communications Commission said in a tweet it forgave Ortiz for letting the expletive fly, noting that the slugger “spoke from the heart at today’s Red Sox game.”
Big Papi, in all his swagger, was back. And so was Boston.