BOSTON -- They were standing at the barricade where Brookline Avenue empties into Kenmore Square, a man in sunglasses holding a little boy in a Red Sox jersey, his wife by his side. The winners of the Boston Marathon had passed hours before, but people were still lined up three and four deep, urging on the many runners still on the course.
"Where are you from?" a woman asked the man in sunglasses.
"Florida," he said.
"And you came all the way here for the race?" she said.
"No, I work around here," Sox catcher David Ross said.
We know them first as baseball players, but at least for the six months of spring turned into summer, they live here too. They are our neighbors. They are fellow citizens. To us, they live a charmed existence, and many of them do, but when the bombs went off on Boylston Street, so close to the place where they work and some of them live, the grief and fear and anger resonated with them too.
A year ago after playing on Patriots' Day, the Red Sox were boarding buses to the airport less than an hour after the bombing, the sound of screaming sirens piercing the air as they made their way to Logan. When they came back from their trip to Cleveland, many did so with a resolve to do what they could for a city reeling from the horror, fanning out in groups of five to visit hospitals in the immediate aftermath.
Night after night last summer, there was someone new on the field at Fenway Park, being saluted for their sacrifice, their survival, their bravery, their generosity. The Red Sox grasped their hands, shared their embraces, caught their ceremonial pitches, and stood in the dugout and applauded, along with the rest of us.
The calendar has turned to another season, and those ceremonies continue, as they did Sunday night with a gathering of so many of the people whose lives changed irrevocably that day last April, and again on Monday morning, when the Sox gave the first pitch to a Stoneham man named Marc Fucarile. He had lost his right leg above the knee, broke his spine and bones in his left leg and foot, ruptured both eardrums and suffered severe burns and shrapnel wounds when the second of two bombs exploded near the place where he was watching the race.
Fucarile had been guest of honor at another ceremony just a few days earlier at Fenway. It was here that he married his longtime girlfriend, Jen Regan, and on Monday morning, despite having undergone 49 surgical procedures in the four months he was hospitalized, Fucarile planted his prosthetic leg and threw a strike.
A time to mourn, a time to dance. On this Patriots' Day, a year later, Ross took his family down to Kenmore Square. They'd come to cheer on some of the folks they knew who were running -- Kathryn Quirk, the Sox player relations specialist; Sarah Narracci, the director of player relations, and Abby DeCiccio, the manager of media relations -- but they'd also come because this is their town, too, and they know how much the marathon means around here.
Ross was not the only Red Sox player planning to catch at least a glimpse of the race.
"I think some guys are, some guys might, it's going to be low-key though because we don't want to take security away from where they are," Jonny Gomes said. "I'm not going to go down there and shake hands and take pictures of 'Jonny Gomes at the finish line.' Just try to go down there on my own."
Burke Badenhop, who kept the Red Sox close Monday, was not with the team last season but he has a sister who lives in Boston, so the tragedy hit close to home. "I remember her sending me a text, saying, 'A bomb went off at the finish line,'" he said.
Badenhop said like many of his teammates, he had tears in his eyes during Sunday's ceremony.
"To come here, to a place where you can be a Bostonian and take pride in your city and your team and the marathon today, it's awesome," he said. "There are cities around the world that would like to have this much pride and tradition."
The Red Sox did not win on Patriots' Day on Monday, losing 7-6. They spotted the Baltimore Orioles a 6-0 lead, and unlike the night before, when they rallied from a five-run deficit to win 6-5, their furious rally fell just short, Mike Carp grounding out with the tying and winning runs on base in the bottom of the ninth.
Ross hit a home run. So did Mike Napoli. Badenhop threw 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. Gomes, who had homered the night before to jump-start the comeback, took an 0-for-3. Dustin Pedroia fell just a few feet short of a game-tying home run.
The turnaround from the night before had been so short, three Sox players -- John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, who was Monday's starting pitcher, and Napoli -- had elected to spend the night in the clubhouse. So did most of the equipment crew.
"We were spread out all over the place, on couches everywhere," said clubhouse man Steve Murphy, whose day began at 6:30 a.m.
But when the ballpark gates opened Monday morning, T.J. Connelly, who operates Fenway's music board, filled the park with the live version of U2's "Bad," which proclaims, "I'm Wide Awake," his traditional opener for morning baseball.
And for the next three hours, while the runners streamed outside just a loud foul ball away, the Red Sox wore white home jerseys that had "Boston" stitched on the front, the beginning of what the team intends to make another Patriots' Day tradition. A reminder of home.
"It's been a draining few days," Ross said. "But you know what, the great part of baseball is when you really care, and you really care about playing, and representing the Red Sox and the city. When you put on the uniform, it's a big deal."
Ross smiled. "But tomorrow we've got the Yankees," he said. "We can't hang onto this too long. We'll get some rest, catch a movie with the kids, have some dad time, you know what I mean? And then get back at it."