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Saturday, April 20, 2013
Updated: April 21, 8:37 AM ET
Catharsis in our sports cathedral

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- The voice belonged to Henry Mahegan. In his day job, he is a history teacher at Charlestown High. On this day, like many others, he was in front of a microphone, sitting in a booth high above home plate.

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Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to Fenway Park.

This past week has been unlike any other in the history of Boston. We have experienced trauma and tragedy, devastation and despair, physical injuries and emotional wounds.

Our week has had its share of suffering, sorrow and sadness.

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They were standing, father and daughter, behind the railing of the reserved seats on the Pavilion level, Section 18, a few feet away from NESN's high field camera in left field.

Boston Red Sox
Boston Marathon volunteers stand in front of a giant American flag draped over the Green Monster.

Behind them, they had a clear view of Kenmore Square, where five days earlier, fans watching the Red Sox play their traditional Patriots Day matinee could see runners streaking east down Commonwealth Avenue, taking their final dogged strides toward the finish line of the Boston Marathon, less than a mile away.

The father, David Gallant, had come to the ballpark Saturday to do his job as part of Fenway Park's flag crew. He is one of the men who handle the ropes on top of the wall as the giant flag is dropped over the Green Monster. This day had not been on the original schedule.

But that was before two bombs changed everything.

David Gallant had brought his daughter with him, because he did not want her to miss this. Sarah Gallant was wearing a Watertown lacrosse jacket. She is a junior at Watertown High.

"I've never been more scared in my life," Sarah said. "I never thought I'd feel unsafe in Watertown."

But that was before her life, and Watertown's, was transformed overnight.

"The most wanted person in the world," David Gallant said, "was hiding in a boat, a half-mile away."

This is the story, as the Gallants have heard it in Watertown. The man with the boat in his backyard had gone outside for a cigarette, Sarah said. He noticed blood leaking from the boat, lifted the tarp, saw the bloodied body, went inside and called 911.

Funny thing about that boat, Sarah said. The owner had posted ads on the Internet, she said, looking to sell it.

David Gallant is a sales rep for an electronics firm. Until this week, Watertown had been in the news mostly because of its girls' field hockey team, state champions and undefeated for the past four years. Now?

"This happened in Watertown, of all the cities in the whole world," he says. "There were FBI people going down our main highway, chasing terrorists. Shooting, throwing bombs out of cars. Incredible. 'Surreal' is the best word."

David Gallant contemplates his random connections to two bombings that changed everything. He went to Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, a freshman when Patrick Ewing was an eighth grader. The basketball player was the most famous name to come out of Rindge and Latin. A terrorist suspect named Dzhokhar Tsarnaev graduated from Rindge and Latin.

Gallant's best friend is an art teacher at UMass-Dartmouth, where students say they saw Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on campus Tuesday, the day after the bombings. His other daughter, Grace, is a student at Boston University who, like many of her fellow BU students on Comm Ave, has cheered on Marathon runners.

Late Thursday night, when Gallant answered the phone, Grace was on the other end, upset. Something is going on in Watertown, she said. Gallant said not to worry, they were all OK.

"I went up to the bathroom," he said. "The window was open. I heard sirens, and then I heard the gunfire ... dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah."

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This week has also brought out the best in Boston. Volunteers rushing into the smoke.

Marathoners running even further -- to hospitals to give blood. Doctors and nurses showing why they are the best in the entire world.

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Random connections: Josh Kantor is the Red Sox organist. He also plays in a band, Jim's Big Ego. The band rehearses in the home of its drummer, Dan Cantor, who has a built-in studio there, Notable Studio.

Boston Red Sox
Remembrances of the marathon bombings remained in the forefront of the proceedings at Fenway.

Dan Cantor lives in Watertown. On Franklin Street. Almost directly across the street from the house with the boat dripping blood in the backyard.

Cantor was home with his wife and two children. They huddled in the basement, where he texted his friends and tried to shield his kids from the chaos outside.

Kantor customarily accompanies the anthem singer at Fenway. Saturday afternoon, the Sox did not line up anyone to sing. They invited the crowd to do so, much like the Bruins had done Wednesday night at the Garden.

"The louder they sang," Kantor said, "the softer I played."

By "home of the brave," Kantor was playing softly, indeed.

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And our law enforcement officers ... pursuing every lead, scouring every tape, and working relentlessly, fearlessly and triumphantly, to seek, find and bring those responsible to justice.

And our Governor, our Mayor, and our police officers thank you, for the way citizens responded, for the contributions they made to the apprehension, and to the way we demonstrated such fierce unity.

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It is no more than an hour before Clay Buchholz is scheduled to throw the first pitch, and the Red Sox clubhouse is packed with visitors. Deval Patrick, the governor. Tom Menino, the mayor. Ed Davis, the Boston Police commissioner. Law enforcement officials of all stripes, 35 or so in all, mingling with players wearing their usual home whites, but with a difference. Instead of "Red Sox" stitched across the front of their jerseys, these jerseys say "Boston."

Boston Red Sox
Red Sox utility man Pedro Ciriaco wears a special Boston jersey with the "B Strong" patch.

The Sox have not worn "Boston" at home on a regular basis in more than a century, not since 1911. In the aftermath of Monday's bombings, Sox front-office officials huddled with MLB, which approved the plan to wear the jerseys when the team returned home from Cleveland. A rush order went out to the Majestic factory in Easton, Pa.

"We gave them a roster of who was going to be here, it must have been Wednesday," said Tom McLaughlin, the Sox equipment manager. "They hammered them out on Wednesday and Thursday; they did all the lettering and embroidering.

"Our liaison with MLB, Andy Davis, picked them up. He had gone to Philadelphia, and he offered to go to Easton and drive them to us. He got here Friday morning. They look great, huh?"

They looked even better when Tom McLaughlin and all the other clubhouse guys, Pookie Jackson and John Coyne and Steve Murphy, placed adhesive patches on the front of the jersey, right over the heart. The patch mirrored the new sign on the Monster wall: A white circle around the "B" logo, with the word "Strong" printed in block white letters.

The visitors shake hands with grateful players, and file into the Red Sox dugout.

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Today, we gather as one. And we affirm to ourselves and to each other that we are one -- one community, one nation, one world, full of love, full of compassion and full of generosity.

Those feelings, powerful all of them, fuel us with passion. To never quit. To persevere. To prevail.

We will run another marathon -- one bigger and better than ever.

We are one. We are Boston. We are strong. We are Boston Strong.

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Across the major leagues this past week, Red Sox rivals, including the Yankees, have been playing "Sweet Caroline" to show their solidarity with Boston.

Neil Diamond
Neil Diamond showed up at Fenway for a live performance of "Sweet Caroline."

On Saturday, Neil Diamond showed up to sing the song at Fenway.

"Let me tell you what happened," said Jon Shestakofsky of the Sox media relations department, a story which media relations director Kevin Gregg repeated just as gleefully.

"He showed up at the ballpark at 12:30, called the team switchboard and said, 'Hey, I'm Neil Diamond, and I'm here. Can I sing? I flew in and I want to sing. Will you let me sing 'Sweet Caroline?'"

The story made its way to Sox manager John Farrell.

"Who's going to turn him down?" he said.

In the middle of the eighth inning, Diamond, wearing a Red Sox cap, emerged from Canvas Alley and sang along with the taped version they play for every home game. The crowd roared. Farrell fretted. He'd already informed plate umpire Wally Bell that Jonny Gomes would pinch hit for Shane Victorino, who had to leave the game with tightness in his back.

Now, with Diamond stretching out his signature song, Farrell was concerned that with enough time, right-handed reliever Kelvin Herrera would be ready for Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost to bring him into the game to face Gomes.

"Sweeeeeet Carrrroooollllliiiiinnnneee."

To thunderous cheers, Diamond left the field. Gomes stepped into the batter's box. The Red Sox were losing, 2-1.

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And now, it is our honor to shine the sunlight and the spotlight on some friends and neighbors who represent the spirit, the toughness and the resilience of Boston.

First, a host of ordinary citizens who are anything other than ordinary ... the Boston Marathon volunteers.

He heard the boom. He jumped to his feet.

He sent diners to the kitchen while he headed to the street.

He saw a little boy. A belt became a tourniquet.

He carried the child to medical personnel -- and simply saved his life.

Representing firefighters, paramedics, veterans and everyday citizens who amid sudden danger, chose to rescue others: Welcome Matt Patterson.

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This was unscripted, said David Ortiz, who is beginning his second decade with the Red Sox, longer than any current player.

David Ortiz
"Nobody is going to dictate our freedom," David Ortiz said. "Stay strong."

"I speak from my heart, bro," he would say afterward. "You know I always do."

A painful Achilles condition that had proven far more troublesome than he imagined had kept Ortiz sidelined for the team's first 15 games. Now he was back, for the first time in 2013, thrilled by the huge greeting he had received from the crowd in his adopted city. Moments before the game was to begin, after all the dignitaries had filed off the field, he stood near home plate, a microphone in hand.

"This jersey that we wear today, it doesn't say 'Red Sox,' it says 'Boston,' " he said. "We want to thank you, Mayor Menino, Governor Patrick, the whole police department, for the great job they did this past week. This is our f---ing city, and nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong."

Later, Ortiz apologized if he had offended anyone. He needn't have been too concerned, judging by the roar that greeted his F-bomb.

"Perfect," Gomes said afterward. "He nailed it perfect. Par for the course for what's going on."

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On Monday, he was with his two best friends and their sisters, standing on Boylston, when they heard the first explosion. He was shielding the sisters when, suddenly, the second explosion threw him over a fence, lit his clothes on fire, and sent shrapnel into his face and neck.

He was rushed to Beth Israel Deaconess. There, a trauma surgeon performed emergency surgery -- and again, simply saved his life. And, while he still has a ways to go, he's on the road to recovery, he's with us today, and he's representing not only his two friends, each of whom lost a leg, but all who are on that road. Welcome Lowell native and a Lowell High grad, Steven Byrne.

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Rachel Nava, like all the other Red Sox wives, is wearing a T-shirt, the lettering in yellow. It, too, reads "Boston Strong." The T-shirts were the idea of Kelli Pedroia, the wife of the Red Sox second baseman.

Like her husband, Daniel, Rachel Nava is from northern California, the town of Roseville. They were married in November; she is expecting their first child, a girl, in August. Her brother, Brandon, is in the Marines, awaiting deployment overseas.

Rachel had come to Monday's Patriots Day game and went walking afterward, but because of her pregnancy, she said, she wasn't feeling that well and did not stroll into Kenmore Square to watch the Marathon. She opted to stay in the neighborhood.

Then, two explosions, moments before the Sox boarded a bus taking them to Logan airport and a flight to Cleveland. Away from home.

"The guys were texting us right before they took off, making sure we were OK," Rachel Nava said. "It devastated them in a personal way, just like it did us."

Boston Strong held by a fan
In a week of unforgettable, mostly horrible images, a sense of unity, and community, endures.

Rachel Nava saw first-hand the extraordinary effort by the city's medical personnel in coping with all the casualties. The day after the bombing, a doctor's appointment took her to one of the hospitals treating the injured.

"It's an amazing city," she said. "Seeing all those medical professionals, just to see everyone coming together with that sense of unity."

In the early hours of Friday morning, the Sox returned home, Daniel Nava making the short walk from the ballpark to their apartment. He was exhausted, and while Rachel had been watching the news of that night's shootout, her husband opted for sleep instead, hoping they would wake up to a happy outcome in the morning.

Instead, reports that a suspect was still at large, and a phone call, Rachel Nava said, advising Daniel Nava to stay away from the ballpark unless he was instructed otherwise. Kelli Pedroia's T-shirts were ready to be worn Friday night. Instead, the game was postponed.

"For the most part," Rachel Nava said, "we weren't living in fear, but very aware of what was going around.

On Saturday afternoon, Rachel Nava was sitting in the family section in the reserved grandstand, the wives conspicuous in their T-shirts. Part of the time she spent in the family room. In the eighth inning, the Red Sox still down by a run, Daniel Nava came to the plate. There were two outs, Ortiz having just grounded into a double play. Gomes, who had doubled, was on third. Mike Napoli, who had walked, was on first. On the mound was Herrera, whose fastball has been clocked at 100 miles per hour.

Herrera threw Nava a changeup. Nava swung and hit a long drive to right field, one that uncannily followed the same course of the ball he'd hit on the first pitch he'd ever seen in the big leagues, one that landed in the Red Sox bullpen for a grand slam. This one landed there, too, for a three-run home run.

And Rachel Nava, as she watched the flight of the ball?

"I was just praying," she said, "that it would have an impact and people would be able to go home with a win and a smile on their face, because of all the tragedy and negative stuff of the past four days.

"I'm just glad for the fans, that they can take that win home."

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And now, a symbol of resilience if ever there was one ... the father who, for 31 years, has pushed his son's wheelchair across that Boylston Street Finish Line -- and who, together, are determined to "carry on" and be "back on Boylston" in 2014. Representing all the runners, welcome father and son, Dick and Rick Hoyt!

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After Nava hit his home run, Gomes greeted him at home plate with a ferocious high-five that could have inflicted bodily harm.

"I wasn't trying to," Gomes said, "but it was an option."

Napoli attempted to do the same.

"But I swung and missed him," he said. "I was so pumped. It was awesome."

Jack McCormick, the team's longtime traveling secretary, sat in the clubhouse, beaming.

"This day could not have ended any other way," he said. "We had to win."

It was a day seen through a filter of tears, fired by a surge of gratitude, ending on a note of triumph and affirmation.

"Looking back at it now," Gomes said, "if you were going to make a movie, that's probably how it was going to end up. It just sums the whole deal up.

"The city of Boston was kind of on the ropes a little bit, we were on the ropes a little bit. Boston fights back and wins. We fight back and win."