Fenway Park was transformed Saturday afternoon from a storied ballpark into a haven of resolve and reflection, as Bostonians gathered for the first Red Sox game since Monday’s marathon bombing.
A dangerous suspect had threatened to steal this day from thousands of fans eager for normalcy, but with Friday’s nighttime capture of the once-elusive Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, they came together to honour victims and police – and, of course, to watch some ball.
Scalpers ran out of tickets, park staff handed out American flags and ones that said “Believe in Boston,” and fans came draped in stars and stripes, visibly moved as a hymn of Hallelujah kicked off the opening ceremony.
“It’s important to be together after the horrible thing that happened – there’s a relief that it’s all sort of over,” said born-and-raised Bostonian Don Ross, clad in his Red Sox red. “Being here confirms that this is sort of over.”
A video tribute on the big screen showed images capturing just what this city had endured and overcome these past five days, but the photos of the three marathon dead and a young police officer marked a particularly somber moment.
Fathers cried with sons at their sides and husbands and wives clasped hands as they swallowed sighs and bowed their heads.
“We will run another marathon,” an announcer proclaimed to cheers and hollers. “We’ll run bigger and better than ever.”
Chants of “USA! USA! USA!” erupted and flashes of “Boston Strong,” a new catchphrase, flashed on the stadium’s digital ticker. Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis and several other law enforcement officials took to the field to join others honoured before the game, including a firefighter, a victim hit by shrapnel and the famed father-son marathon duo, Dick and Rick Hoit.
In what many here called a fitting closing, iconic Sox player David “Big Papi” Ortiz took to the microphone to thank Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and police, then said defiantly: “This is our [expletive] city.”
He drew laughs from a crowd that seemed to need some light-heartedness, and with that the national anthem was sung to kick off the game against the Kansas City Royals. This time, though, an organ bolstered fans’ bellows but then paused to let American voices sing their patriotic song unvarnished.
The crowd got a late-game shock when Neil Diamond made a surprise visit to sing the team's signature seventh-inning stretch song: Sweet Caroline. The live performance invigorated the crowd and preceded a near home-run ball and two-base hit. Other baseball teams, like the New York Yankees, this week played the catchy tune in solidarity with the city.
Red Sox players had been eager to take to Fenway field, hoping to bring some measure of pure fun and comfort to a city with heavy souls. Outfielder Shane Victorino tweeted Monday,“Boston is a tough, resilient town and will prevail over this saddening tragedy!” and catcher David Ross told Fox Sports earlier this week that players were “anxious to get back home, play in front of our crowd, and try to uplift the people of Boston.”
The Red Sox pulled out a win Saturday, defeating the Royals 4-3.
This park has a deep connection not just with the city but with the marathon. On Patriot’s Day, Sox fans make a tradition out of watching a game and then hoofing to Copley Square to watch exhausted runners cross the finish line.
Indeed on Monday, baseball faithfuls had gathered here for what proved a nail-biter against the Tampa Bay Rays. But no sooner had players leapt with joy at their win when just blocks away a similar exhilaration was quashed with a bloody tragedy.
Less than 24 hours before the game Saturday, this New England city was on lockdown. Boston’s transit system was closed and schools were shuttered, while iconic areas like Cambridge’s Harvard University and the running trails along the Charles River were mostly deserted. Thanks to a dangerous suspect on the loose, the city moved in slow motion – save for zipping police cars – until the stay-home order was lifted around 6 p.m.
Bostonians celebrated the evening capture of Mr. Tsarnaev, cheering and shouting “God Bless America” when the second bombing suspect was taken into police custody after a standoff in Watertown, Mass. But while Mr. Tsarnaev was in custody and his brother, also a suspect, was dead after a police gunfight Friday, it was clear hearts remained torn.
“You don’t want to say you’re excited to be back here,” said Gary McNerney, a Sox fan watching with his wife. “The cheering in the streets last night was weird because it’s a bad reason to be happy, and the same goes for here.”
Indeed, the two suspects were off the streets, but there were still questions as to their motive – a longing to know why. And, above all, there were memories of those who lost their lives: Boston University graduate student Lingzi Lu, restaurant manager Krystle Campbell and eight-year-old Martin Richard.