Boston's spring festival turns tragic

BOSTON -- These are ties that bind so deep, the ones that have connected the Boston Marathon with the Boston Red Sox in a one-of-a-kind sporting festival on Patriots Day, a holiday unique to us.

The world's oldest continuing marathon. The baseball team playing in the major leagues' oldest ballpark. And thousands hoisting a glass or two in an annual spring bacchanal.

Johnny Kelley, the legendary runner who competed 61 times and ran until he was 84, is just one of many great marathoners to have thrown out a ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park. Originally, he wanted to be a ballplayer. Bill Rodgers is another. So is Joan Benoit, who was wearing a Red Sox cap when she won the marathon in 1979.

Kathryn Nixon, wife of the original Red Sox dirt dog, Trot Nixon, ran in the marathon. So did Dawn Timlin, Mike's wife; and Shonda Schilling, Curt's wife; and Stacey Lucchino, Larry's wife. Every year, teams of Sox employees run.

A race that begins at 10 in the morning. A ballgame that once started just as early, part of a split-admission doubleheader that used to allow fans the chance to sprint the couple of blocks to Kenmore Square to watch the home stretch of the race.

The ballgame begins at 11 now, and the doubleheaders have long been a thing of the past. But from atop the Green Monster that stands guardian over Fenway Park's left field, as well as certain spots high up in the grandstand, fans still can crane their necks and watch the elite runners in the marathon field strain toward the finish line 26.2 miles from where they began, the tape stretching across Boylston Street in front of our regal library.

And when the game ends, there is still plenty of time to join the throngs that stream down Brookline Avenue and empty onto Kenmore to watch their brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, neighbors and buddies, girlfriends and office pals complete what is for many a heroic quest to achieve something they never dreamed possible. To finish the race.

So on an afternoon when that race is interrupted by unimaginable horror, when runners stumble, blood on their faces, and medical tents set up to treat blisters and exhaustion and stomach cramps instead become a triage site to treat little kids and severed limbs, there are tears streaming down faces on Yawkey Way.

Less than an hour before, the Red Sox had been happily locked in a winners embrace around Mike Napoli, jumping up and down like the kids they become in moments such as these, celebrating a walk-off win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Mere minutes before, ballpark ushers were shooing out the remnants of a sellout crowd of 37,449 who had lingered to run the bases with their sons and daughters, some of them for the first time.

And then the serenity of an April afternoon was shattered by two explosions, one mere seconds after the other, joy replaced by the fear that comes when the day erupts in an endless wail of sirens, helicopters hover overhead, and the streets fill quickly with grim-faced men and women in blue uniforms, yellow FBI jackets and gray National Guard helmets.

The Sox had just left on a bus for Logan Airport and a flight to Cleveland when it happened. The Rays were on another bus to Logan to catch a flight to Baltimore. They learned of the tragedy the same way you did, from tweets and text messages and TV screens.

"Thoughts and prayers are with everyone at the Boston Marathon," Andrew Bailey, Monday's winning pitcher, tweeted upon hearing what had happened.

"I hope everyone that was at the marathon is ok … very scary that stuff like that happens … please keep them in your prayers," Rays pitcher David Price tweeted.

Former Sox players signaled their concerns. Nomar Garciaparra. Lou Merloni. Ryan Sweeney. Mike Cameron.

"I'm so saddened for families of Boston," Cameron tweeted. "Unless u understand patriots day in Beantown u hv no idea … may God keep his arms and hands on people."

Red Sox executive Sam Kennedy was walking down a sidewalk outside Fenway, relieved to have learned that Sox marathon participants were all safe and accounted for. He was uncomprehending that only a few short miles from where he grew up in Brookline and just blocks from where he now works, such evil could have been perpetrated on his doorstep.

So are we all. We'd been scarred terribly once before, when the planes that flew into the Twin Towers embarked on their mission of destruction from our runways. But this hit even closer to home.

"Boston is a tough and resilient town," President Barack Obama said Monday. "So are its people. I'm supremely confident that Bostonians will pull together, take care of each other and move forward as one proud city.

"And as they do, the American people will be with them every single step of the way."

In time, we pray that will be true. But for now, we weep for our city.