"Nobody’s gonna dictate our freedom. Stay strong!"
After those words from Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, the fans at Fenway Park settled in, the Red Sox played baseball again, and the city of Boston moved one step closer to recovering.
Last Monday’s Boston Marathon bombing shook the city, and everyone watching around the world felt the anger, helplessness, and sympathy.
But to really feel what the city of Boston went through, you had to be a Bostonian. You had to be part of Boston to know what those two misguided fools tried to destroy.
Patriots Day is a unique holiday. In Massachusetts, everything shuts down to commemorate The Shot Heard Round the World. Those initial skirmishes between defiant colonists and their red-coated oppressors led eventually to the country that we love and cherish today.
In Massachusetts, this day gets Fourth of July treatment. This is really where our country started. Not in Philadelphia. Right here.
They began running the Boston Marathon in 1897. It remains the granddaddy of all marathons. And it remains the most unique holiday parade you’ll find anywhere.
No floats, mind you. Just runners. Thousands of them, testing themselves to the limit over 26.2 miles. And thousands more lining the route, offering encouragement, urging them on.
Once seen, it’s a spectacle you won’t ever forget. Believe me. One of my earliest memories is sitting on my Uncle Chick’s shoulders, watching and clapping my little hands as runner after runner passed by. Little wonder that I became a runner.
The Red Sox always play at 11 a.m. on Patriots Day. When the game ends, the fans pour out of Fenway and congregate on Boylston Street, cheering the runners to the finish line. And then, the city hosts a giant block party.
One of the very special days of the year, that’s what they tried to destroy. But they didn’t. And they won’t.
Because we possess that same defiant spirit that our forbears demonstrated on the fields of Lexington and Concord 238 years ago. That same spirit we Bostonians celebrate every single year on Patriots Day.
They had to cancel Friday night’s Red Sox game, as the city remained on lockdown. But Saturday’s reopening revealed an American flag covering all 231-feet of the Green Monster outfield wall. Marathon volunteers and first responders lined the field. Emotional? "I think we all were," Sox outfielder Daniel Nava told Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. "I think to honor them, and give them some well-due spotlight is something that got to all of us. It got to me. I know that for sure."
Then came a video capturing the week’s events. "That video was pretty moving," Sox manager John Farrell told Julian Benbow of the Globe. "I think it was all captured in that five-minute video."
The Red Sox and Royals watched the video lined up on the two foul lines. "Guys were fighting back tears on the line," Sox relief pitcher Andrew Bailey told Benbow. "I’ve never been a part of something like that."
And that was before the crowd joined in singing the national anthem en masse.
Then it was time for Ortiz to speak. Standing in front of the pitcher’s mound, Big Papi brought a uniform change to the crowd’s attention.
"This jersey that we wear today, it doesn’t say Red Sox. It says Boston! We want to thank you, Mayor Menino, Governor Patrick, the whole police department for the great job that they did this past week.
"This is our (expletive) city!"
Somehow, someway, Big Papi got it exactly right.
"I’m from the Dominican Republic," he told Benbow, "and the one thing that I always say is, me and my family are blessed being in this country. And I love this country, and I would do anything for this country.
"This past week, I don’t think there was one human being who wasn’t affected by what we got going on down here. This past week, for me, myself, I was very emotional and angry about the whole situation, and got to get that out of my chest and make sure our fans and everyone in the nation knows that this is a great nation and part of it was supporting each other when everything went down."
Ortiz, playing in his first game of the season because of a heel injury, singled in the sixth inning to tie the score. When he came up in the eighth, the Sox were trailing, 2-1, with two runners on base.
In the perfect script, Ortiz lofts a homerun right there. In reality, he hit into a double play.
After a walk to Mike Napoli, Nava came to the plate. "I wasn’t trying to hit a home run," he told Cafardo. "When I hit that ball I was yelling, ‘Stretch, c’mon, get going!’"
As the ball settled into the Sox bullpen beyond the right-centerfield wall, Sox announcer Don Orsillo exclaimed, "Boston, this is for you!"
"Knowing everything that went into today, and the importance of it, not just for the city, but each person that was impacted," Nava told Cafardo. "For us to get the win, whether it was me or whether it was anyone coming through, was something that I think we all wanted to do."
No, nobody’s gonna dictate our freedom. Stay strong.