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Fenway Patriots Day tradition made only stronger

Bombing survivor Marc Fucarile acknowledged cheers from onlookers after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before Monday’s Red Sox game.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Bombing survivor Marc Fucarile acknowledged cheers from onlookers after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before Monday’s Red Sox game.

Kathleen Tognacci burst out of Fenway Park like a runner out of the blocks, weaving through the thick crowd on Lansdowne Street, pulling ahead of her 19-year-old daughter, who struggled to keep up.

Taylor Tognacci watched her mother’s white Red Sox hat bobbing through the multitude, which undulated toward Kenmore Square. Together, they followed the crush of people trying to get close to the runners making the turn onto Commonwealth Avenue.

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Mother and daughter had a goal: After watching their Red Sox, they wanted a spot on Boylston Street to cheer as friends completed the Boston Marathon. They wanted to help reclaim that moment from a year ago, when bombs exploded not long after the crowd from Fenway had flooded toward the finish line.

“It was bad here last year,” Kathleen Tognacci said. “It feels so good this year.”

This doubleheader — a baseball game followed by an afternoon of cheering for Marathon runners — has been a tradition in Boston for more than a half-century. The third Monday of every April is Patriots Day, a Massachusetts holiday commemorating the Revolutionary War skirmish at Lexington and Concord. Tens of thousands run the Marathon. The Red Sox play a morning ballgame.

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By the midafternoon, the crowds converge in Back Bay, where the tulips have finally burst through the mud, and magnolia blossoms perfume the air. This annual rite is about much more than the American Revolution, long-distance running, or baseball. It is a celebration of Boston, in which thousands of people unencumbered by work or school bask in a city on its best day of the year.

Monday morning at Fenway, a 29-year-old nurse named Liz Campbell watched the ballgame from the standing-room- only section in right field and thought about her childhood. Her father, a plumber, and her mother, a nurse, often took Patriots Day off to bring their two girls to Fenway. The family rode the Red Line from Quincy and sat in the bleachers because the tickets were cheap.

In Campbell’s memories, it never rained on Patriots Day. The Red Sox never lost. And when the family wandered down to the Marathon, all the runners seemed to win.

“We loved this day,” she said. “It’s about the city coming together as one to watch two really great sporting events.”

Up the first base line, Becky Hendrickson had a temporary tattoo of a heart-shaped American flag on her left cheek. Hendrickson had driven 2½ hours from Springfield, as she has every Patriots Day for the last 15 years.

“I had to be here,” Hendrickson said. “You just feel it in your heart.”

On top of the Green Monster in left field, Brian O’Neil still had the photograph on his cellphone that showed how close he and his wife were to the bombs last year. They had left the ballgame in the sixth or seventh inning and wandered toward Boylston Street. They had a VIP pass for the bleachers at the finish line. After the explosions, they took shelter in the Boston Public Library, and hid in a stairwell.

“You can’t not think about it a little,” said O’Neil, a 37-year-old who lives in Millis.

His wife, Melanie O’Neil, 36, added, “There’s a sense of unity and emotion this year. There is a different feeling here.”

“I think it’s better,” Brian O’Neil said.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Military helicopters made a dramatic pass above Fenway Park while en route to the Boston Marathon’s finish line.

The differences were inescapable. Military helicopters buzzed overhead. Law enforcement swarmed in packs. A garbage truck was parked diagonally across Brookline Avenue like a wartime barrier.

As subway riders emerged from the Kenmore Square T stop, police broke the crowd into two groups. People with bags were ordered to the right; people without bags, to the left. An officer inspected the small red purse of a young teenage girl.

“You don’t look like the type,” the officer said with a smile, letting the girl nervously pass.

As Kathleen Tognacci and her daughter raced from Fenway toward Boylston Street, they hit the changes head on. They breezed through their first security checkpoint. Tognacci high-fived a runner who had finished the race and was wrapped in a reflective blanket.

Mother and daughter passed a second security check on Commonwealth Avenue.

They were finally stopped at Hereford Street and told they would get no closer to the finish line.

“I’m kind of bummed,” Tognacci said. “I just thought you’d be able to walk up.”

A runner wearing pigtails who had finished the race walked past. Tognacci offered another high five and said, “Great job.”

“Thank you,” said the woman, wrapped in a reflective blanket. “Thank you for coming out.”

Tognacci glanced at the police officers standing sentry. She and her daughter found a place to stand along the Marathon course. In the end, their Red Sox made a valiant try at a comeback but still lost. Tognacci did not see her friends cross the finish line, but she saw them a half-mile from the end. She cheered as they passed. They waved.

“It was still a great day,” Tognacci said.

More from the 2014 Boston Marathon — Cullen: Just like the days we used to know | Gasper: Boston reclaims its Marathon | Photos: Marathon scenes | The ‘Scream Tunnel’ and Heartbreak Hill | The elite runners | Boylston Street | Videos from the Marathon | Full coverage

Andrew Ryan can be reached at acryan@globe.com Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.
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