Boston Strong: Red Sox ride wave of good feelings
Walking back to his Fenway Park office after the traditional Patriots Day morning Red Sox game, Charles Steinberg saw the reports on TV that there had been explosions at the Boston Marathon finish line.
He saw video of the damage on Boylston Street. He heard the police say that a fire at the John F. Kennedy Library might be related. And he thought to himself, "We're next."
"That added to the dread," said Steinberg, an executive vice president with the Red Sox who orchestrates many of their pregame ceremonies. "Because your thought then is that if this is a sequence of attacks on iconic Boston locales, Fenway Park could easily be next."
The Red Sox staff quickly and obediently evacuated the ballpark, but Steinberg and his assistants soon went back to plan for the team's return from Cleveland, where it went directly from the Monday morning game. The result was an emotional ceremony that stretched into a season-long tribute to honor the victims, doctors and nurses, police and other first-responders who were there for the explosions and their aftermath.
"I think it was a moment and time that enabled us to galvanize in a certain way," manager John Farrell said Monday as the Red Sox prepared for the World Series. "It was an opportunity for our players to understand their importance to the city and what the Red Sox players mean to this region."
With a "B Strong" logo on the Green Monster, one on their uniforms and another shaved into the Fenway grass, the Red Sox advanced to the World Series on Saturday night for the third time in 10 years. They will open at home against the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night, and Steinberg is working with Major League Baseball to devise an appropriate way to honor those killed and wounded the week of the April 15 bombings.
Inside the Red Sox clubhouse, the tribute goes on.
Shane Victorino, whose grand slam clinched the AL championship series against Detroit, wore a "B Strong" shirt that read, "In support of all victims." Enlarged copies of Jonny Gomes' "Boston Strong" Sports Illustrated cover are all around. Above Mike Napoli's locker is a patch from the Boston police, who helped apprehend suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after a daylong, city-wide lockdown.
"What I can tell you is that I don't know that one can be more proud of how the players have acted, reacted to the people who have been affected," Steinberg said. "They took the initiative, shunning the help that we might typically give them."
Three people were killed and more than 260 wounded in the attacks; an MIT police officer was also killed in a shootout during the manhunt. Even before they returned from the three-day road trip, the Red Sox sent their best wishes back to Boston, posing in the visitors' clubhouse with a "B Strong" banner; a Red Sox jersey reading "Boston Strong" with the city's 617 area code hung in the dugout for that game.
And then, when the team returned from Cleveland, the franchise that defined baseball selfishness decades ago with the expression "25 players, 25 cabs" split into five groups of five and visited the five local hospitals where the bombing victims were being treated.
"These guys were able to throw a city on its backs - follow us, we're going to help out any way possible," Gomes said. "I'm just so fortunate that I'm in a position where I have a profession that I can do that to people. But, at the same time, you've got to remember the four people that aren't able to come to a game again and their families and their legends they left behind. We know that in the back of our head there's four angels up above pulling for us."
Steinberg said the players went to clubhouse manager Tommy McLaughlin and asked him to make up the tribute jersey in Cleveland. Will Middlebrooks' tweet of the "BostonStrong" hashtag gave it a spike that lingers still. The players arranged among themselves to visit the hospitals, without the usual help or prodding of the marketing and community relations departments.
"It was so genuine. It was so sincere," reliever Craig Breslow said. "Any response you saw came from the players - because that's what they wanted to do, not because that's what would look good."
And fans have repaid the favor.
"It's a huge part of our success in the playoffs," Gomes said. "Those fans would not allow us to have the wind taken out of our sails all the way."
Outfielder Daniel Nava remembers his disappointment that the team couldn't go straight to the hospital after returning from Cleveland; because of the manhunt, the city was shut down that Friday and the game was postponed. By the time players were able to visit the victims, it was a week after the attacks.
"We tried to provide any hope and support to anyone that lost a leg or a limb," he said. "But their attitude was actually better than ours. By the time we left, those people - what happened to them, and they survived - they're telling us to keep our heads up. We're saying, 'Us? What about you guys?'
"They did a lot more for us than we did for them," Nava added. "At least, that's how I walked out from it."