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Brian McGrory

Better things to dwell on

By Brian McGrory
Globe Columnist / September 30, 2011

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Maybe I should be embarrassed to admit this, but when a friend informed me yesterday that he was spending the afternoon drinking magnesium citrate ahead of the colonoscopy he’s having today, it made my otherwise miserable morning.

It could be worse, folks. Your system could be getting cleaned out faster than Yawkey Way.

Or you could be Setti Warren, ending his Senate campaign yesterday by telling the voters of Newton how much he treasures being their mayor, the very job he was trying to leave after doing it for about a year.

In other words, perspective, please, which is what I also got when my phone rang with Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis on the other end of the line. He is a good man and a wise cop, so when he suggested that I high-tail it to a part of Mattapan that he had just left, I did what I was told.

Which is how I came to be walking across the potholed playground of the Mattahunt Elementary School in the middle of seemingly nowhere, listening to the sounds of laughter spill out an open door to the old, rickety gym.

Inside, there were young kids, the boys in blue polos and khakis, the girls in skirts, dribbling basketballs, practicing bounce passes, heaving shots with all their might toward rims that seemed unfairly high. They were having the time of their lives. Guys in green tee-shirts shouted instructions and constant praise.

The adults were, I learned, the coaching and scouting staff of the Boston Celtics, which was interesting. Then I saw what was unfolding around the rest of the school.

Back outside, dozens of men had swarmed a section of playground that had long ago been basically condemned. They were wielding saws, pushing brooms, digging into the ground with heavy shovels, attacking overgrowth, leaves, and litter that were probably there before Havlicek stole the ball. A 12-foot tree had sprouted in the middle of a street hockey rink, if that tells you anything.

I introduced myself to a worker who was ripping out human-sized weeds, and he told me he was Rich Gotham. Rich Gotham is the president of the Celtics, which caught me off guard. He was sweating like a buffalo.

He said the Celtics swarm a few schools a year with 150 or so volunteers from the front office, basketball staff, sponsors, and season ticketholders. “It’s amazing what you can get done when you pull a few people together,’’ he said. “It’s the most gratifying stuff we do.’’

As he spoke, volunteers pounded together benches and flower boxes. Inside, a few dozen people overhauled the library, which lacks a librarian, organizing shelves and setting up computers. Another couple of dozen volunteers were painting the vast community room.

“I’m elated,’’ said Ruby Ababio-Fernandez, the principal. “My kids deserve this. The staff deserves this. It says a lot to the school.’’

By day’s end, the kids were left with what amounted to a new playground, new outdoor basketball court, and new library, as well as a sense that they mattered, which they don’t get anywhere near often enough.

Which gets to the point in all of this. Baseball in Boston ended with a heavy dose of poetic justice Wednesday night, the Red Sox collapsing and Tampa Bay surging back to life, a season summarized in two remarkable games. But life goes on. Life goes on in victory, and it goes on in defeat. It goes on both on the field and off.

Boston is lucky to have the teams it does, even today, every one of them community-minded. And the teams are fortunate to have the passion of the smartest fans in sports.

Every once in a while, it doesn’t hurt to take stock: What happened at Camden Yards was memorable, but what happened in Mattapan is important.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.