I haven’t been sleeping well. The Red Sox keep winning, and the games roll on into the early morning. But this year, it’s more than a bunch of baseball players I’m rooting for. It’s a city, a group of people, spread out from where they came from and now living all over the world. It’s about New Englanders, about Red Sox, about humanity.
In December 2012, Sandyhook Elementary School in Newtown, CT., was the sight of one of the worst humanity-inflicted tragedies of recent memory.
In April 2013, Boston was the result of the second-ever Boston Massacre, as two extremists made the Boston Marathon into a devastating event that claimed the lives of three people and injured nearly three hundred others.
The Boston Marathon runs right past Fenway Park. Players and their families have taken part in the celebration that includes an earlier game scheduled to launch “Patriot’s Day.” After hearing news of the tragedy, the Red Sox have had survivors, responders, victims’ families members, and others throw out pitches, sing, challenge the team and fans. The tragedy became the rallying cry for a team that had been counted all but out by prognosticators.
On October 19, 2013, the Boston Red Sox clinched the American League spot in the 2013 World Series.
You can tell me that these three events are unrelated, but as a native New Englander, I will tell you that you’re wrong.
See, BoSox relievers Craig Breslow and Andrew Bailey live near Newtown. On April 1, 2013, two of the most hated rivals, the BoSox and their N.Y. Yankee rivals, stood on the field united to remember the twenty-six fallen victims of Newtown. [I can remember the one time in thirty-plus years that I’ve rooted for the Yankees: it was 2001, and the city was reeling from the 9/11 attacks. Rivalries didn’t matter. Humanity did.]
Dustin Pedroia, second baseman, said, “I don’t think you can find anybody in Boston who doesn’t love the Red Sox, so we’re responsible in the worst of times to try to help out.”
Designated hitter and longtime Boston icon, David “Big Papi” Ortiz, put it more succinctly in his edited refrain as reliever Koji Uehara received the ALCS MVP: “This is our bleeping city.” [You can now own a t-shirt from Sullys that quotes what he really said when the games resumed after the manhunt ended.]
I’m not a fan of public profanity, but I know what he meant. I understand what it’s like to see the capital of your childhood under siege, locked up, and to know that family members, and people you know, can’t go outside for their safety.
I’ll never forget making phone calls and reflecting on what might be the reality of my family member and friends who were close to the tragedy. And the thing is, I don’t want to. I don’t want to forget because it’s made me value life and living more. It’s made me see running, yes, running, as a privilege not a right, defended by others who protect us from these dangers, and as a memorial to those who will not run again.
And the Red Sox run for these affected as well. They run, and hit, and pitch, and dance, not just for the game, but for the people. They give a reminder of the Boston spirit that would not and will not be broken by terrorism, by tragedy, by the evil decisions in some human hearts.
Maybe it’s not the Red Sox for you. Maybe it’s the local high school team or the singing group or your church or the [fill in the blank]. Whatever it is, it’s that moment where you recognize what Martin Luther King Jr. meant when he said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
It’s that moment where competing or representing or loving is more than just an individual decision. It’s a team thing.
And it’s not just a game. It’s a reminder that we are Boston Strong. We are humanity strong.
When sports allows us to compete, to cheer, to honor the fallen, to hope and unite toward what could be, that’s when the Red Sox aren’t just a baseball team, but a symbol of what the city could be. And to recognize that our teams are giving back, both individual players and united team fronts, and that we should be, too.
Shoot, if the Red Sox and the Yankees can agree on something, can’t we all work together for something good?
Win or lose the World Series, the Red Sox, and their bearded crew of crazed wildmen (here’s looking at you, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, and David Ross!), have given us something to cheer for and reminded us that we are forever #humanitystrong.