When David Ortiz took the microphone at Fenway Park on Saturday the crowd roared with delight. Big Papi was back, baseball was back, Boston was back. For the injured Ortiz, this was his first game of the season with the Red Sox. His speech was the culmination of an emotional pre-game ceremony that included all manner of moving tributes and grand pronouncements. Ortiz got to give the final word before the game began.
“Alright. Alright, Boston.” (Big cheer from the crowd.) “This jersey that we wear today, it doesn’t say Red Sox. It say Boston.” (Bigger cheer. Ortiz’s Dominican accent makes jersey sound like “chersey.”) “We want to thank you Mayor Menino, Governor Patrick and the whole police department for the great job they did this past week.” (Big cheer. Pause. Then out with it.) “This is our #%&!ing city.” (Huge gasping cheer of amazement. A woman in the row behind me tapped me on the shoulder. “Did he just say what I think he said?”) “And nobody gonna dictate our freedom.” (Cheering intensifies combined with laughter.) “Stay strong. Thank you.”
Ortiz’s declaration was like lancing a boil. After a week of tragedy and terror, his profane and patriotic response felt so good. It was quintessential Boston — honest, combative, and funny. In your face, shutdown, lockdown, shelter-in-place. His words were real and spontaneous, compared to the highly scripted, often over-the-top self-congratulatory tributes about perseverance and resilience.
I don’t live in Boston, but I root for the Red Sox. I live in Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley so I watched the Marathon tragedy and the week of terror unfold from two hours away. By chance I had gotten tickets to the game a couple of weeks ago. It just happened to be the day when a Red Sox game was also a public display of appreciation, a memorial and a return to normalcy. On the way into the park we got frisked but there did not seem to be any noticeable extra security. (I later learned that bomb-sniffing dogs had scoured the premises.) We received “617” bumper stickers with our programs, as well as 15-inch, polyester American flags.
Once the game started it felt like Fenway. We know how to do this. Root, root, root for the home team. Three strikes you’re out. The wall giveth and the wall taketh away. The traditions were carefully observed. As the players ran out to take the field, the P.A. played “Dirty Water” by The Standells. Then, of course, there was the requisite singing of “Sweet Caroline,” a tradition that started in Boston about 15 years ago. On Saturday the singing was led by the ditty’s auteur, the one and only Neil Diamond, who flew in for the occasion.
“I bring love from the whole country,” said the pop star, decked out Fenway-style in blue jeans, a green jacket and a Red Sox cap. Pacing on the outfield grass near the right field stands, Neil worked the crowd. In the past week, “Sweet Caroline” was played at sporting venues around the country including Yankee Stadium. I will never forget going to a game at Fenway right after 9/11 and we sang along to “New York, New York” as a goodwill gesture to our fellow citizens in the Big Apple. It felt so much better than chanting “Yankees suck.”
On Saturday, after we had Diamond on the diamond, the Red Sox came from behind to win the game in the bottom of the eighth on a three-run homer by Daniel Nava. It was an ideal finish to an incredible afternoon. The whole day at Fenway felt like a continuation of the scene in Watertown Friday night when residents spontaneously lined the streets to applaud the police for capturing the suspect and ending the terror. As we poured out of the park after the game the city finally felt a little more like itself.