A lot of people have already said a lot of things regarding the meaning of this strange, scrappy, magical, bearded band of men we call the 2013 Boston Red Sox. After two years that included fried chicken, beers, and the worst season in recent memory, these guys took advantage of the period between the heartbreaking end of the Bruins Cup run and the beginning of Patriots season to bring Boston back to its roots: baseball.
It was awesome to have a baseball team that was not only winning, but also likeable, on the diamond at Fenway again. But if you say you picked the Sox to win the Series this season, you are (probably, most likely) lying. That’s what made October so fun: it was totally unexpected.
Every championship win is special (something that can be kind of hard to remember when your teams have won eight in twelve years), but at the risk of being cliché and repeating something you’ve heard over and over again: this one was more.
The Marathon Bombings shook everyone in the Greater Boston area to their cores. As someone who grew up a mere fifteen minutes from the race’s starting line, who has friends and family who volunteer along the route and at the finish line, never in my wildest nightmares could I have imagined a tragedy like this happening on Patriot’s Day. But—as tends to happen in these situations, far too many of which we’ve seen the past few years—the good in humanity outshone the bad. Not only did Bostonians and marathon runners band together to help one another, so did people from across the country and the world.
Where do the Sox play into all of this?
Sports are undeniably woven into the fabric of our society in Boston. Whether you like it or not, so much of our identity lies in our unwavering allegiance and dedication to the Sox, the Pats, the B’s, and the C’s. And we’re very lucky in that we have so many athletes that come to play for us that get that. This city becomes as much their home as it is ours. They give us 100%, they give us eight championships in twelve years, and they were just as shaken as we were by what happened on April 15th.
It is not surprising that sports became such a huge part of the “healing” narrative in Boston. Because when it came down to it, yeah, it was about the game, and winning—this is Boston, it always is—but it was about community. It was about coming together with our friends and neighbors to root for something that makes us so happy. It was about having that sense of togetherness that reminded us we are not alone. I will never forget sitting on my bed in New York, two hundred miles from home, watching Rene Rancourt hand off the Anthem to the people of Boston via a shitty livestream at the rescheduled Bruins vs. Sabres match-up two days after the tragedy. I would’ve given anything to be at the Garden singing about the “broad stripes and bright stahhhhs” that represent our country—a country that (and I will argue this to the death) was born in Boston.
The Boston Red Sox are as much a part of Marathon Monday as the race itself. Every year, they play at 11:05 AM on that day, so as to finish in time for the spectators to empty out into Kenmore and cheer on the runners in their final mile. This tradition has existed nearly as long as the Marathon itself.
After the news of what happened that day broke, even our bitterest rivals in the Bronx stood with us in solidarity. Because sports are about competition, but also about community.
The Sox played their next game at Fenway nearly a week later, the day after Dzokhar Tsarnaev had been taken into custody after a now-infamous standoff in Watertown, wearing jerseys that simply said “Boston.”
David Ortiz, a man who will forever be a legend in Red Sox history, gave a speech after the ceremonial first pitch: “This is our fucking city, and nobody’s going to dictate our freedom.” His choice words, along with “Boston Strong,” became mantra for everyone in the city as we worked to comprehend how to move on from something like this.
The baseball season continued for six more months, as did the healing process (which for many is still going on). The Sox honored Marathon victims and responders in some way nearly every time they played at Fenway.
Take away the weightiness of this season in light of everything that happened in the city and it still would have been magical to anyone who even casually likes baseball. Coming off two of the most abysmally embarrassing seasons the team has ever seen (including a pathetic September collapse followed by the worst record in the league) rife with stories of clubhouse fuckery and general douchiness from so-called superstars (looking at you, Josh Beckett), no one expected the Sox to still be playing ball in the last week of October. But they managed to get rid of the clubhouse cancers and get back to basics: they acquired a manager who was decidedly not Bobby Valentine and restored order off the field, and all the sudden what had been branded as a “rebuilding” season was starting to look reminiscent of the one with those “idiots” who broke the Curse back in ’04—just a bunch of goofballs who loved each other and really loved playing baseball.
It gave us something to look forward to, something to be happy about amidst all the pain we’d been through, that many were and are still going through. The guys on this team understood. It’s almost as if that obstruction call in Game 3 was fate: had they won that game in extra innings, they could’ve taken the Series in St. Louis. But after an unprecedented season for the Sox and an incredibly difficult year for Boston, they had the chance to bring the Series home and win it at Fenway for the first time since 1918.
And they did.
Not everyone likes baseball. Not everyone who was scarred by the Marathon tragedy is going to be healed by a bunch of goofy guys with moderately offensive beards parading a trophy down Boylston Street on some duck boats. But there’s something to be said for the significance of this win.
Baseball is “America’s pastime.” One of the most storied franchises in MLB history won it all playing America’s pastime in America’s oldest ballpark six months after two angry brothers set off bombs just blocks away in defiance of everything our country stands for. The symbolism is obvious: just as the city of Boston did, the Red Sox fought back. They refused to be held down. They embodied the spirit of our city. And they understood what this meant to us.
As my friends and I stood just down the block from Arlington T Station, waiting for the duck boats to bring Pedroia and Ellsbury and Lester and Koji and Papi (and most importantly, Officer Steve Horgan, who became a viral sensation during the ALCS and rode in the parade with the ownership group) by, the crowds cheered every emergency responder that passed. It wasn’t long before we heard that the parade was stopped a few minutes away in front of the BPL, where Johnny Gomes placed the Commissioner’s Trophy, draped with a 617 Boston Strong jersey, on the finish line as the crowd sang a rousing rendition of “God Bless America.” It was a poignant end to an unexpected, wild, meaningful season.
I often say I feel bad for people who don’t enjoy sports—of course, maybe I’m just spoiled, “cursed by greatness” if you will, as one of my teams has been a champion for over a third of the years I’ve been alive. I hear from my dad all the time how lucky I am to have grown up in the “Golden Age of Boston sports” (’04 World Series was basically required viewing—“people have lived and died waiting for this moment,” he said), and maybe if I lived somewhere where the economy, the media, and just every day life wasn’t so dominated by major league sports, I’d feel differently. But there’s something to be said for the bond you share with your fellow fans—you experience the same joys and sorrows, fantastic moments and frustrations, peaks and valleys (which in Boston tend to be kind of extreme), and that experience can really bring people together.
Nothing feels as good as winning. Nothing feels as good as winning, especially when you’ve been made to feel like nothing about your city or one of its most beloved traditions will ever be the same again. As cocky as this sounds, the Sox knew that the final piece needed to restore Boston to its normal order after everything that happened was a championship trophy. So they went out and got it for us.
We carry on. We race. We strive. We build and we work and we love and we raise our kids to do the same. And we come together to celebrate life and to walk our cities and to cheer for our teams when the Sox, then Celtics, then Patriots or Bruins are champions again, to the chagrin of New York and Chicago fans. The crowds will gather and watch a parade go down Boylston Street. And this time next year on the third Monday in April, the world will return to this great American city to run harder than ever and to cheer even louder for the 118th Boston Marathon.
Bet on it.