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Boston Strong

I remember my grandfather had a police scanner on his immaculate wooden desk, right next to the dining room table where my family and I would have holiday dinners.

It was a part of the scene, tucked away, while the turkey was served during Thanksgiving.  Sometimes it was left on, the police, or fire department radio, barking out some incident.

My grandfather and grandmother lived on the "Nawth Shaure" in Marblehead, about an hour from Boston.  It's where my love of the Boston Red Sox first grew, and it's where my connection to the city began, through many trips to Fenway Park and the city.

I used to wonder why he had a scanner on his desk.  After all, he wasn't a policeman, or firefighter.  Sure, he was a good member of the community, as was his wife.  But, still, I wondered, why would you desire a police scanner on your desk?  Entertainment for your grandkids?  Information in a pre-internet age?

I thought an awful lot about that scanner when the horrors of the bombings at the Boston Marathon unfolded.

Boston has this strange way of making you think it's yours when it's not really yours.

I've never lived in downtown Boston, but I've spent so much time traveling there that I end up thinking that it's mine.  Trips to see grandparents, friends, and my sister and her husband's family.  I've been to funerals close to Boston.  Weddings close to Boston.  Baby showers close to Boston.  I've seen friends, met and lost girlfriends in Boston. 

I lived close to New York for a large portion of my life, but New York has never felt like my own the way Boston has.  Certainly the deep family connections in the area has something to do with it, but not all of it.

I know I'm not alone, either.  Many, many people feel the connection to Boston even though they live in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, or Florida.  It gets in your skin.

This is why Red Sox Nation is so large, and extends in such a large area.

My father went to graduate school there, where he'd grab a buddy after a day of classes and head to Fenway to catch a game from the bleachers.  His story is the story of countless others that have lived there a while, and leaving, but not really leaving.

People go to college there, or maybe they just take a trip there to see a girlfriend.  It doesn't matter.  It gets in your skin.  People travel there from everywhere, and leave, and they end up thinking it's theirs.

This is why the terror attacks on the Boston Marathon so deeply impacted not only the citizens of Boston, Watertown, Cambridge and the surrounding areas, but also a much wider group of people.

This was never meant to happen anywhere.  But especially not Boston.

Boston, the college town that goes out of its way to accommodate.  Boston, the global town that has Faneuil Hall, the tourist trap that offers a global array of different foods for whatever might strike you.  Boston, a town known for its breweries and its history.

Boston, a town known for its quirky teams, the Red Sox, the Celtics, the Bruins.  Teams almost more well known for their stories as much as their actual play on the field.  Remember the bloody sock?  Red Auerbach?  Bobby Orr?

New York City has every food known to man as well.  They have world-class museums, too.  It has a deep sports history, too.  (Perhaps you're heard of the Yankees?)

They have basically all the same things that Boston has.

But they're a city.  They're big and brash, and their stories, especially lately, are more about projecting raw power than the folksy tales they originally stemmed from.

Boston is a town.  They're smaller than New York City, and proud of it.

All Americans were horrified by the terror attacks of 9/11.  But at some level, Americans could see New York City being a target for terror.

After all, New York City is a global brand.  People outside of America dreaming of a better life know what New York City is, and what it represents.

The World Trade Center was the tallest building in the world and the living symbol of the New York City brand, the American brand, when it was constructed, every bit representing New York City then as the holes in the ground show New York City's resilience now.

But Boston isn't the same thing.  It's a great place with history, collegiate energy, and Northeastern Irishness and thriftiness thrown in there, but a target for terror?

Boston is many things, but it hasn't been about projecting raw power since the Boston Tea Party.  Boston these days is that friend you know and visit, that family member, that college buddy.

It seemed then, as it seems now, unfathomable to me.

When the two brothers decided to attack America, they chose the most Bostonian day of the calendar to do it, too, Patriot's Day.

In Boston, it's a day off, when the Boston Marathon happens.  It's a Patriots Day tradition: the maraton goes on, and the Red Sox play a game with an 11:00 AM start.  It's a day of fun for the residents of Boston - the closest thing to a Senior Skip Day as anywhere in America.

When the terrorists lowered the backpacks in the crowd and detonated the bombs, there were no high-value military reasons for their violence - no public figures to hit, no specific protest to make.  It was there to kill people, as many as possible.  That was the bombers' only goal - to kill Americans.

I heard about the bombings on the modern-day equivalent of the police scanner, the Twitter feed.  One loyal follower I have from the Boston area tweeted a picture of the carnage minutes after it happened.  I had to blink over and over to have the act register in my head.  It couldn't be.  What?  Here?

In the summer of 2012, I walked on that very street with my family to and from the Red Sox game.  A bomb went off on a road I had walked dozens of times, to eat, to watch baseball, to drink beer, to visit people.  There was blood here that day.

And that's, ultimately, what the attack was.  On family.  It's as if someone attacked a family member.

And that's when the Red Sox, improbably, became the personification of the rage Bostonians, or quasi-Bostonians, of which I include myself, had towards a world where someone could actually do something like this.

I know it sounds weird.  Believe me, it's weird to type.  But I think it's true.

To me, that's why the story of the 2013 Red Sox ended with an improbable World Series win.

I remember that first game after the bombings very well.  I remember calling the game up on, and watching it on a delay.  I wanted to make sure we saw every minute of it, the tributes, Sweet Caroline, everything.

Even Big Papi.

I don't know why, but it really was perfect.  It came on the heels of a frantic week of looking at the police scanner of today, Twitter, and the internet, trying to figure out who did it.

During the week, with relative blazing speed, pictures of the bombers came out on security cameras and photos of the scene.  It was a strange form of turning the clock back: victims, now either dead or grievously injured, had returned.  Their lives were normal again.  They were on Senior Skip day, taking in the Marathon, a Boston tradition.

I remember being riveted by the coverage a few days before, staying up until 4AM, watching CNN, Boston's ABC news feed, everything, waiting for them to find out who did this.  I also was obsessed with 9/11 coverage ten years ago, but this felt different.

I think the most important thing to me was that we got them alive.

I wanted - needed - to know why.  Why someone would do this.  Why someone would intentionally wreck the family of Boston, a family in which I felt like I was a part.  I went to bed, hoping, praying, that they would get the guy alive.

In the end, I would get my wish, even though we're no closer to figuring out the "why" now than we were then.

Maybe that's why my grandfather had the police scanner.  Maybe he needed to know what was happening, and why people did what they did.  Maybe he read the newspapers, and saw fires get set, and people get murdered, and wondered "Why?", looking to the papers for answers.

Maybe, too, that's why we root for sports teams.

It's really remarkable how the Red Sox exited that game and, over the course of the season, grew into their roles as the best team in baseball.

Going into the season, I honestly saw this team as a rebuilding one.  From the outset, the starting pitching seemed like one or three arms short.  DH David Ortiz seemed a step closer to retirement, and it remained to be seen if 1B Mike Napoli was going to be any sort of answer.  RP Joel Hanrehan didn't seem like the answer at closer.  And, and, and.

But even in the game that Saturday after the bombings, you could sense how nervous this team was.  They did not want to be known as the team that blew this game at this time.

You could tell they were trying to put the city, the Nation of fans across the country, on their backs to help heal the hurt that had been caused by a couple of psychopaths.

The way that game played out, in retrospect, echoes eerily in the Red Sox' ALCS and World Series run.

Down 2-1, OF Daniel Nava came to bat in the eight inning and powered a 3-run home run over the monster to give the Red Sox a 4-2 lead.

A nervous RP Andrew Bailey - once seen as a viable closer for the Red Sox, remember? - came in for an exhausted P Clay Bucholz, and promptly let up a home run to allow the Royals to cut the deficit to 4-3.

Bailey gave up a single, then walked a batter with two outs - then somehow, some way, got the game-winning groundout to win that game 4-3.

I don't feel it coincidental that the Red Sox won so many postseason games in the exact same way: the now-iconic grand slam by Ortiz to tie the Tigers game, OF Shane Victorino's grand slam to send the Sox to the series, OF Jonny Gomes' bat flip after his 3 run home run changed the course of the World Series.

I loved every minute of the ALCS and World Series, but for some, strange reason, the Jonny Gomes home run electrified me.  To me, it is absolutely perfect.  Gomes, who wasn't even supposed to be there.  Gomes, who seemed, sometimes, to have more heart than anything else.  Gomes, who was only in the game because of an injury to the real all-Star that was supposed to be there, OF Shane Victorino (or, as my wife the Phillies fan calls him, the "traitor".)

As he's hitting the ball, it's as if he can't even believe it's happening.  I've seen the animated GIF, without much exaggeration, about 100 times since he's hit it.  Every time, it seems like the ball will stay in play, yet somehow, it finds itself exiting Busch stadium.  His actions on the basepaths seemed to epitomize my own feelings: as a fan, as a sort-of Bostonian.

And as a Red Sox fan, I remember watching that Marathon game back in April, and thinking it was a one-time event.  It was a great thing that they won that particular game, of course, but I never dreamed that it would lead them to the Red Sox' third World Series title in nine years.

I will always be convinced that the seeds for the dramatics in October, Gomes' home run, Big Papi's MVP performance, and everything, were planted on that Saturday in April.

When this Red Sox team learned how to beat the Royals in April, they then learned how to beat the Tigers and Cardinals in October.

When they carried the city on their backs in April, they learned how to carry this city, and the family of Sox fans across the country, to the first Series-clinching victory at home since 1918.

When craziness started to happen in the series, like runner's interference and game-ending pickoff moves by RP Koji Uehara, they knew what it takes to win these big games.  The craziness cut both ways, but Boston was better equipped to handle it.

My grandfather, who moved to Boston in the 1920s, never got to watch his hometown team win the World Series.  But I think back of him, his team loyalty, and that police scanner when I think of this World Series team, too.  I like to think he's looking down on us now, understanding that life's not that much different now than it was then, except the fact that these Red Sox can carry a Nation on their backs in a way that few people thought possible.


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