From the start of this unlikely season, the Boston Red Sox have been inextricably linked with the Boston Marathon bombings.
The blasts at the finish line detonated minutes after the final pitch of the 3-2 Red Sox victory in the traditional Patriots Day game. It was star slugger David Ortiz who coined Boston’s memorable, expletive-pierced rallying cry. The Boston Strong logo borrowed the Gothic “B” that adorns the team’s caps.
And Fenway Park became the venue where, throughout the summer, crowds cheered the victims and the healers as they walked — or were helped — to the mound for the ceremonial first pitch.
And now that this bearded band of ballplayers has reached the threshold of baseball’s highest crown, its rise from last place to the World Series has taken on a deeper meaning in a city rising from one of the most shockingly violent episodes in its history. Boston needed the Red Sox a bit more than usual this year, as a distraction, a measure of comfort, and a unifying force. And more than ever, the team took on the personality of its recovering city.
“There is a magic to this team,” said Dan Lebowitz, executive director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University. “The Marathon happens, it was so injurious to the city . . . and the next thing you know there’s this team of destiny rising through the ashes. It creates this dynamic of hope for the city moving forward.”
Like the New Orleans Saints team that brought a Super Bowl victory to a city devastated by Hurricane Katrina, or the New York Yankees’ World Series run a few weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, this year’s Red Sox have embodied the way sport can bring together a community sundered by disaster. Even a nation, at times, united to the strains of “Sweet Caroline” in ballparks across the country.
It started with the Red Sox jersey reading “Boston Strong” with the city’s 617 area code the Sox hung in their dugout for a 7-2 win in Cleveland the night after the bombing. A gesture that, according to team executive vice president Charles Steinberg, was initiated by the players.
But as the season progressed, and as the team defied predictions of mediocrity and its personality started coming through, fans recognized attributes New Englanders have always embraced: the almost stubborn adherence to a team’s patient strategy of driving up pitch counts, the unbridled, genuine enthusiasm of the players, and, of course, an uncanny ability to grind out wins against the odds.
Even those most deeply affected by the bombings found in the team a welcome distraction from the grim aftermath of the bombings.
Three people were killed and more than 260 wounded in the attacks, and an MIT police officer was killed three days later, allegedly by the bombing suspects.
“A world championship isn’t going to undo anything that’s happened, but it’s good for the family to be living through something that’s an exciting time in our community,” said Larry Marchese, spokesman for the Richard family of Dorchester, whose younger son was killed in the bombing and whose daughter lost a leg.
Kevin White, who suffered injuries along with his mother, and whose father lost part of a leg, said the Sox’ success has factored little in the family’s individual recoveries, but he has noticed the way the city has responded.
“We think it is a great thing for the recovery of the city as it continues to show the resilience and character of the city as well as the personality and attitude of the team,” he said.
Members of the Red Sox say they have benefited from the city’s resilience.
“It brought a closeness to me to the city, seeing how everybody rallied around each other,” catcher David Ross told reporters.
“I do think these players feel a special bond and connection to this city,” said team president Larry Lucchino. “As human beings, these guys understand what the city, the region, the victims went through and it helped them bond to each other and to this community.”
One did not have to be a Red Sox fan to be caught up in the sense of community and recovery in the magical summer of 2013.
Worth Olsen, a Connecticut native and a lifetime fan of the New York Yankees, had just walked away from the Forum restaurant when the bombs went off.
He was not wounded, but he was traumatized by the violence and had trouble sleeping afterward.
“I’ve always loved living in the Boston area but never really felt at home. I can in all honesty say that changed after the bombing,” he said.
“I found myself feeling so much more connected to the city. . . . I found myself actually feeling like I belonged here. Like I was home,” he added.