by Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter and Boston City Paper 11/2013
“This is for you, Boston. You guys deserve it… We’ve been through a lot this year and this is for all of you and all those families who struggled.” — David Ortiz, MVP 2013 after the Red Sox World Series win.
The story goes that a few days after the September 11 attacks, singer/songwriter (and my personal hero) Bruce Springsteen walked along a bridge in New York City and stared where the twin towers had stood. That vision would be the inspiration for the song, “Empty skies.” At some point right after that moment, a fan approached him; they spoke of the attacks and the fan said something like, “Bruce, we need you.” The fan meant that people needed Bruce to write, to sing, to help tell the story, to help give people hope.
The resulting CD, “The Rising” is one of Springsteen’s finest and indeed helped the healing process after the September 11 attacks. Now, countless people from all walks of life and all over the world helped America heal and rebuild after 9/11. Springsteen’s CD was just a small contribution to that process — but I have always liked the Springsteen story and I think it’s apropos to today’s subject.
Seven months ago, in the heart of the city, in a mere 10 seconds, Boston changed forever. No one who lives in Massachusetts can forget the week of April 15, 2013.
Monday: The Boston Marathon — one of the greatest American sports events for over a century — an event of sportsmanship and athletic prowess, of diversity, friendship, and the sheer joy of lining the streets cheering for a runner — an event uniquely BOSTON — was bombed. Four innocents killed; hundreds maimed and seriously wounded, their lives forever altered.
A city in terror for days.
Boston was wounded. Not fatally, but badly. We all were — this was personal. This was Boston. This was OUR city. Doesn’t matter if you live in Foxboro or Danvers or Chatham or Dorchester. This was OUR city.
There were constant news updates, and we heard innumerable stories of heroism by people who once again, like 9/11, ran TOWARD the fire, TOWARD the smoke, to help. God bless them all.
Messages of support and moving tributes were everywhere. I don’t think any of us will ever forget the kindness of the New York Yankees posting “United We Stand” with the Yankees’ and Boston Red Sox Logos on their stadium.
Wednesday: At the first Bruins game since the attack, there was a moving tribute to the victims.
Thursday: All hell broke loose as the alleged bombers were identified and pursued.
Friday: 24 hours of unforgettable chaos and carnage locked the city down. And then, it was over, and the people of Watertown were cheering the police as the surviving bomber suspect was captured.
Everyone was breathing a little easier. But we were all so hurt, so angry. A week of bottled up emotions for all of us.
Saturday: Then, something extraordinary happened. At Fenway Park — what Ben Affleck’s character called “The Cathedral of Boston” in the movie, The Town” — a watershed moment occurred.
The mayor, governor, FBI, police, other law enforcement officers, firefighters, and first responders all stood with the Red Sox and spoke to the city. They spoke about what had happened. We were injured — we would recover. We would help the injured pay for their medical bills. We would help them recover. The Boston Marathon would be held again next year. Boylston Street would reopen.
We would rise, Boston Strong.
A video ran with the music of Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” showing the events of the week, the tragedy, the acts of heroism, the faces of the victims and the carnage, and also the pictures of people recovering in hospitals – people helping each other.
And no lie, I started crying. I felt like I needed to let it all out. It felt good.
And then David Ortiz, our Big Papi, took the mike and said on live TV, “This is our fucking city! And nobody going to dictate our freedom.”
And the crowd went insane. Papi said what no one else could, but everyone felt that day.
It was going to be OK — this was OUR city. We ARE Boston Strong.
And then: PLAY BALL!
Much like the first football game after 9/11, we were tentative, was it OK to have fun again? Cheer the home team? To laugh? To bond over a sports team?
“Bruce, we need you.”
“Red Sox, we need you.”
And from that moment, from that 4-3 win over the Royals, it seemed like the Red Sox make a decision to carry this city the same way that countless others had — but to do it in a BIG way — to unite us all, as a city, to epitomize the determination and resolution and courage of BOSTON STRONG.
They carried us. Oh, man, did they carry us.
Celebrities and members of all local sports teams and ordinary people visited hospitals and made new friends. There were vigils. Ceremonies. People made donations and performed countless acts of charity and generosity and kindness. God bless every one of them.
A makeshift memorial was set up on Boylston Street. Visitors from here and from other countries left pictures, notes, sneakers, runner’s bibs, ribbons, and other poignant messages.
The One Fund was set up for the victims. The response was overwhelming.
But the Red Sox — they united us like never before. And they gave us back hope.
And for the first time in my life I understood how important sports are to people. And WHY they are so important — they unite us.
And while it can be successfully argued that football has replaced baseball as America’s favorite sport, and with great respect for my hometown football team who I love, the Boston Red Sox ARE Boston. You think Boston sports, you’ll probably say Red Sox first. Not Celtics, not Bruins, not Patriots. RED SOX.
Talk to anyone 30 or older and they have memories of their brother or uncle or father watching… THE RED SOX.
This is a team that has the most dedicated fans in history who stayed with them through 86 years of World Series heartbreak — and every year we came back to cheer them on. Boston’s own.
And this year, the Red Sox, BOSTON’s team, made it their goal to bring us up from the proverbial ashes by giving us something to unite around, to be excited about. And they kept winning, and winning, and they kept talking about how much Boston had been through. “B Strong” mowed into the sacred ground at Fenway. The sign on the green monster. Countless shout-outs to the victims and the city’s pain. And more wins. For Boston. Even in the losses, so much determination to do better. Then, more wins.
As many commented they were Boston Strong – playing for a city shaken by tragedy.
And in October, the Red Sox gave Boston — a humbled but not broken city — a gift.
The Boston Red Sox allowed us to experience the euphoria — pure joy — not only winning the World Series, but, for the first time since 1918, at the sacred cathedral, Fenway Park.
And as the players sprayed champagne and made speeches, as awards were presented and people took the mike, everyone said the same thing, “Boston had been through so much. We did this for you.”
“I don’t think we put Boston on our back. I think we jumped on their back,” Jonny Gomes said. “They wouldn’t let us quit.”
And after the win, there were the scenes on the TV of people on Boylston Street at the Marathon Finish Line, kneeling down to kiss that line. To just stand there. To reflect, to remember, to defiantly stand at the place of tragedy saying: YOU WILL NOT DEFEAT US. WE WILL RISE.
The Red Sox had given us back our hope in the strongest way possible — by uniting the city in a non-stop emotion of winning, winning for BOSTON, and saying we are BOSTON STRONG.
And damn! It felt awesome.
And the following Saturday, under a beautiful bright blue sky, during the exuberance and joy of the victory parade, all the Duck Boats stopped at the Marathon Finish line. And then, Jonny Gomes placed the championship trophy and the “617 Strong” jersey reverently at that sacred place — and the crowd sang “God Bless America.” And my God in Heaven, I filled up again. The moment was perfect, sacred, cathartic. It was, and will remain, THE indelible, iconic image of this time for so many of us.
If the Red Sox had lost they would still be remembered as having a great year. But their goal was clear after April — they were going all the way. For the wounded city that is their home. For Boston, for all of us.
Boston is a sports town and we love our Bruins, Pats, Sox, Celtics, win or lose, but man, did the Red Sox show a city how to fight back — with just the love of a game, a sport everyone can enjoy, and a collective party. And a non-stop attitude of “This is for you, Boston!”
“Special. We got together in Spring Training and everybody cared about one another so much… The whole ride all year, the stuff that happened to this city, we wanted to do something special and make everybody happy and proud of their team in the toughest of times. And hopefully we did that,” — said Dustin Pedroia.
They did indeed. To the Boston Red Sox, from everyone in Boston and this country — and especially from this Boston-Boy, this son of a die-hard Red Sox Fan, from the bottom of all our hearts:
You gave us EXACTLY what we needed.
BOSTON STRONG BABY!