COMMENTARY | Patriots Day. The very name of the annual Massachusetts state holiday implies throngs of participants — regardless of political affiliation, race, color, creed, religion, or any other difference that can separate people — happily coming together behind a unifying celebration of nationalism, in one of America’s historically great cities.
As in Past Years, Patriots Day Started With Some Wonderful Traditions
For a while, Monday, April 15, was yet another perfect Patriots Day in Boston.
A walkable distance from the 117th running of the Boston Marathon, the first pitch at Fenway Park, as it is each year on Patriots Day, was thrown at just after 11 a.m.
Less than three hours later, the Tampa Bay Rays scored a game-tying run in their last at-bat, only to see the first-place Boston Red Sox smack a double off of the famed Green Monster in left field, to beat the Rays, 3-2, in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The Moment Patriots Day Changed Forever
After seeing their team win on an exciting walk-off hit, happy Red Sox fans filed out of Fenway and strolled down to the marathon finish line where they unimaginably witnessed the unthinkable.
One explosion, and then another, just a few blocks and a dozen seconds apart, each causing in many cases, irreversible carnage and striking fear along the final 200 yards of the legendary marathon route.
The first blast, like the second, fueled by senseless hate and an implausible disregard for human life, ironically occurred just behind numerous international flags, which only seconds prior, stood united while representing visitors of the many varied nations hosted by the world’s oldest marathon.
Paradoxically to those horrific events, a sad Patriots Day coincided with Jackie Robinson Day. And thus, all who were in uniform for the Rays and Red Sox had ditched their regular numbers in favor of the identical number 42, in honor of Robinson, who of course, broke baseball’s color barrier in the 1940s and 1950s — something that like the multi-national flags lining the marathon route signified, flied in the face of everything that the cowardly marathon terrorist(s) pusillanimously tried to steal away from everyone in Boston’s Copley Square.
While that was the objective of the heinous monster(s) who perpetrated the terror that shook Boston (and beyond), it was defied by the ideals of the opposite shining through — the many brave heroes who ran toward the danger, instead of away from it, to save the lives of strangers.
A Touching Tribute From an Unexpected Source
On a far less important scale, even the Red Sox’ biggest rival — the New York Yankees — one night after the horror of a day earlier, provided a heartwarming show of support for a city and a team they usually have great disdain for in traditionally, baseball’s most intense rivalry.
In a highly classy move, the Yankees played a Fenway Park favorite, Neil Diamond’s ” Sweet Caroline,” during their April 16 game against Arizona. They also displayed a touching message as well as even more stirring commemorative ribbon at Yankee Stadium.
Before Monday, a Boston bombing would have meant the Yankees living up to their nickname as the Bronx Bombers, running up the score on Red Sox pitchers. Now, that expression will despondently have a much more serious and upsetting connotation — as will the word “hate,” which in Boston, was always casually tossed around by Red Sox fans toward Yankees fans, and vice versa. Instead, that term will forever be associated with an unspeakable Patriots Day nightmare.
Upcoming Celtics-Knicks Playoff Series Put in Its Proper Perspective
Although the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is easily the strongest one between Boston and New York, the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks have had their own bitter history on the basketball court over the years.
As recently as this season, immediately after Boston’s win in New York on January 7, Knicks star forward Carmelo Anthony, after jawing with counterpart Kevin Garnett, waited for Garnett at the Celtics’ team bus.
Later, the Knicks answered that loss and the Celtics getting under their skin, by beating Boston in the teams’ next three meetings, en route to finally ending the Celtics’ five-year reign as Atlantic Division champions, while winning their own division title or the first time in 19 years.
Yet, as the seventh-seeded Celtics and the second-seeded Knicks prepare to begin a first-round playoff series this Saturday (April 20), they’ll do so with a much different feel than previously anticipated, following Monday’s terrifying events.
Unfortunately, New York knows as well as anyone the level of frightening pain that Boston just endured.
The images of courageous, selfless men and women rushing to a chaotic, awful scene to help those in need, and the sounds emanating from New York radio and television stations reporting on the tragedy in Boston invoked eerie recollections of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 — which, in New York, centered around the destruction of lower Manhattan’s Twin Towers, caused by commercial planes that originated out of all places, Boston’s Logan International Airport.
In a mere 12 seconds, Patriots Day gave way to a type of perspective that was suddenly thrust upon the upcoming Celtics-Knicks playoff series.
It’s perspective in the form of 183 injured victims (100 of which were thankfully released from Boston hospitals by the morning of April 17), and in three more whose only mistake on Patriots Day was simply waiting to cheerfully greet loved ones at the race finish line. They instead, were very unfairly stopped in the life equivalent of marathon mile two or eight, and denied their rightful opportunities to go the distance in completing what would have been their special life journeys.
Those three marathon spectators tragically died, completely unaware that reveling in some Patriots Day joy would cost them their lives only moments later.
One of the three was eight year-old Martin Richard, by all accounts, a sweet, bright, energetic boy, who was killed while waiting for his father, Bill Richard, to conclude the marathon. The young Martin was a big fan of the Red Sox and Boston Bruins. He was also a loving son and brother, who last year, during a peace march with his second grade class, held a sign calling for an end to violence after the fatal, high-profile February, 2012 shooting in Florida of a 17-year-old boy (Trayvon Martin) who chillingly shared Martin’s surname.
Martin Richard’s six-year-old sister, Janie, an Irish step dancer, lost a leg, and could lose another. Their mother, Denise Richard, has already undergone brain surgery as is fighting for her own life.
All Bill Richard wanted to do was run, and afterwards, receive congratulatory hugs from his close family. As of today, with his entire life shattered, he’s figuratively trying to pick up the pieces as Copley Square investigators literally do the same, by sweeping the ground for further clues that could bring someone or some group to justice.
Whoever will ultimately be held responsible for turning a marathon into nightmarish mayhem, never remotely valued the lives of the Martins, or the two kind, hard-working, young women who were murdered — 29 year-old restaurant manager Krystle Campbell, and a young Chinese woman (initially, publicly unnamed at the request of her family), who as a Boston University graduate student studying mathematics and statistics, was due to get her masters degree next year.
Far too many others who were lucky enough to survive are in critical condition, as the sane left among us, pray for their healing.
Several runners who trained for months to accomplish something that could inspire them and others to achieve countless worthwhile things, not only in a physical sense, but in a lot of other positive ways, lost the very legs that brought them within a couple hundred yards (or less) of reaching those goals.
Healing Through Sports, as the Celtics and Knicks Prepare to Meet Again
Despite all of that, true to the American spirit Patriot Day is meant to embody, the overwhelming consensus is that the Boston Marathon will come back bigger and better than ever next year, just as New York went ahead with its yearly marathon only 54 days after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Forty-four days earlier, just 10 days after the Twin Tower attacks, Mike Pizza’s clutch eighth-inning home run at New York’s old Shea Stadium, gave the New York Mets a home victory over their division rivals, the Atlanta Braves, and more importantly, provided a much-needed emotional lift for millions of New Yorkers.
It was the way tough cities like Boston and New York answer terrorism, with a response that confirms that life, even after a horrible calamity, will still continue. Sports in that way, can certainly heal.
Due to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, New York canceled its marathon last November, right around the time the Celtics and Knicks tipped off the current NBA season and started on their respective journeys toward meeting each other in this year’s playoffs.
On that stage, with the intensity ratcheted up in the postseason, typical sports clichés might mention teams like the Celtics and Knicks “rallying” or playing in a “pressure cooker.”
But, as the Yankees demonstrated with their current solidarity for a town they are accustomed to disliking, rallying right now, means being there for a fellow American city in need.
And, given that authorities now know that actual pressure cookers were used to use house the shrapnel that killed or injured so many innocent people, that term, likewise, has a different meaning at the moment.
Thus, perhaps when the Celtics’ starting lineup is introduced at Madison Square Garden before Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, Knicks fans might follow the Yankees’ lead in temporarily dispensing with being a mean town toward Beantown, and consider giving Saturday’s MSG visitors an unexpected standing ovation.
Before Monday, that would have seemed inconceivable.
But then, losing a playoff series to a loathed division rival had also never been put in the context of all that was lost in Boston, on a terrible Patriots Day that will never be forgotten.