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Saturday, April 19, 2014
2 Days: Sox game brought relief, normalcy

By Jack McCluskey

In the 26 days leading up to the Boston Marathon on April 21, ESPNBoston.com will share inspiring stories, detail important logistics and go inside the planning for what promises to be an event like no other in the wake of last year's bombings. There are two days until the race.

Though in the grand scheme of things, our professional sporting events are of little significance in and of themselves -- someone wins, someone loses and everyone gets paid handsomely -- they can have a profound effect on us.

Especially in times of tragedy, when we hunger for the familiar, the comforting, our teams can serve as rallying points.

When the Red Sox took the field for the first time in Boston after the bombings at the marathon, the murder of MIT police officer Sean Collier, and the subsequent manhunt and shootout in Watertown, the old ballpark at the corner of Lansdowne Street and Brookline Avenue -- a long, long home run away from Kenmore Square and the marathon route -- served as just that.

David Ortiz
Police Commissioner William B. Evans recalled David Ortiz's speech at Fenway Park last year and "that sense of relief that the Red Sox game brought. 'Hey, everything's back to normal now, life can go on.' "
The multiple emotions of the week -- from sadness, to fear, to hope -- all came tumbling out. At least, that’s how it was for William B. Evans.

“I think I was a little bit still in shock that that could happen here,” the Boston police commissioner said of the week’s events. “And I think throughout the week I was running on pure adrenaline. I think it really hit me when we captured [accuser bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev] in Watertown and the next day when we were at Fenway Park, we were in the dugout, inside meeting with the players and they were all thankful.

“And I went out to the field and when they were playing ‘God Bless America’ and they did a nice sort of display up there on Boston Strong [a video tribute to the first responders on the center field JumboTron] ... the TV actually had me saluting. And I was emotional. [Afterward] more people said to me, ‘I seen you on TV, it looked like you were watery eyed.’ That’s when it really hit me.”

For Evans, standing on the grass at Fenway, with the blue “B strong” logo on the Green Monster and his fellow public-safety officials on the field around him, the enormity of it all suddenly hit him.

“I think I realized how much went on that week,” he said. “We were out in Watertown all day [the previous day, during the manhunt]. We were humping it for 19 straight hours. I remember after [the suspect was captured] going for a beer or two, because I was totally wiped. And when I got up [Saturday] morning, I think I heard on WBZ that 30-40 million people watched that takedown in Watertown and I turned to my wife and sort of chuckled and said, ‘Imagine I was in charge of that?’ ”

There’s a framed photo on a wall in Evans’ office at Boston Police headquarters. It’s of Evans, in his blue BPD uniform, shaking hands with David Ortiz on the dugout stairs that day.

Asked what he thought of Ortiz’s impromptu, profane and instantly famous “this is our-bleeping-city” speech, Evans gave a small laugh.

“Well, I didn’t like the F-bomb,” he said, “but I think people felt a sense of relief at that time. I think people wanted to make sure [the world knows] we’re not intimidated by what happened. So from that standpoint I liked it. I just, you know, the F-bomb was a little hard for me to live with. But it was an emotional week for everybody who had anything to do with the city.

“We had to call off Bruins games, we had to call off the circus. There was a lot of calls [that had to be made]. The city was held hostage that whole week. I think it was just that sense of relief that Red Sox game brought, that ‘Hey, everything’s back to normal now, life can go on.’ I think that’s what David Ortiz was trying to say.”

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.