Standing near the Bobby Orr statue on the Causeway Street side of TD Garden at around 6:30 on Wednesday night, Anne-Marie Kenney wore a grey Bruins’ T-shirt as she watched flocks of fans wearing mostly black and gold stream toward the building for what was supposed to be a hockey game -- but more so promised to be a cathartic, prideful, patriotic experience.
“Even standing here,” she said, “this is the most normal I’ve felt in the last 48 hours.”
By then it had actually been almost 52 hours since the bombs had exploded on Boylston Street, since twin acts of terror had permanently changed the definition of normal for Bostonians – like Kenney, who is part of a common breed. She’s among the type who came here for college but never left and is now a prevalent piece of a city that takes its shape from all types. They join the natives. The townies. The students. The lifers. The transplants.
And the athletes.
Many of the athletes aren’t citizens of Boston. Some spend their season in a hotel room and then head to warmer climes. But before the Bruins brought pro sports back to the town, people on their way into the Garden wanted those athletes to know that they’ve heard, read, and seen the statements they’ve made since Monday – in interviews, on Twitter, via jerseys sporting No. 617 – and they wanted to let them know that those really do matter.
They wanted to let them know that not only do they appreciate the voicing of support, but they also wanted the players to know that they are drawing strength from all the reactions and responses because they have helped the fans realized that this community really does mean something to the athletes who compete under its cheers.
“It goes to show that nobody is above human tragedy and loss,” said Kenney, a Celtics and Patriots season-ticket holder who lives in Medford now and was at Fenway Park on Monday morning, then supposed to be watching the Bruins at the Garden on Monday night. “I think you really get a sense that Boston is their home, and that those guys who maybe don’t live here all year round, they still consider this a place that loves them back. Boston is one of those special places where sports can help us heal.”
Wednesday’s sing-along version of the Star Spangled Banner certainly projected the image of a city that has already begun the process of healing the black eye caused by a punch that failed to knock it out – or even knock it down. But by then, from both near and far, sports had been doing what it could for a couple of days.
As soon as the news began to break, well-wishes were arriving through social media. In those early moments of unease, they carried messages of comfort and unity, then came the Sox and their signs of solidarity from Cleveland on Tuesday night. They were only that, of course. Just messages and signs. But they mattered.
“I thought it was really important,” said Bennett Greenwood, the Somerville resident who stood on the side of the Orr icon opposite of Kenney, wearing a Zdeno Chara jersey. “Over the last couple days I’ve looked up on Twitter and Facebook and seen some of the things that these guys on the team have been saying, and they really took it to heart. It was really nice to see that they’re looking out for everybody and that their hearts are in the right place.”
Their hearts are here, even if they’re from somewhere else. Among the most immediate and most vocal was Will Middlebrooks, the 24-year-old third baseman from Greenville, Texas, who at this time last year had never played a big-league game in Boston. Among the most empathetic was Andrew Ference, the defenseman who was born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Among the most generous was Danny Amendola, the receiver who’ll donate to recovery efforts $100 for every catch he makes this season, plus $200 for every drop – despite not yet having played a down for the Patriots.
“For him to already be contributing, that’s huge,” said Greg Bingham of Saugus. “He sets an example. He was one of the first ones to step up and do something.”
It’s the gestures emanating from outside the area that are resonating with Greg’s older brother, Bill Bingham. It mattered to him that the Yankees played "Sweet Caroline" in honor of Boston after the third inning on Tuesday night, and that other teams also followed.
“We’ve been through this before,” he said. “Not us, but you pray for New York, pray for Newtown, and to actually see the Yankees doing stuff – people as far as the Mariners doing stuff – seeing people reach out toward the Boston community, it's pretty powerful. It actually touches every single person.”
“When the Yankees put up that thing saying, ‘United we stand,’ that meant a lot,” added Mark Winiarski after making the two-hour drive from his Connecticut border town. “I hate the [bleeping] Yankees, but, you know what, especially in a rivalry like the Yankees’, to come over and say, ‘United we stand, and we’re behind you,’ it means a whole hell of a lot.”
Winiarski admitted to being a bit scared in going to the game, but friend Neil Bouchard said the two didn’t really consider getting rid of their tickets. “You’ve got to come up here and say the United States is going to stand strong,” he said. “It’s a hard-hitting town. A strong town.”
As far as Al Cutts is concerned, it’s the Bruins who represent those ideals the best. He refers to the B's as “roots players” because of where they've come from and how hard they’ve had to work to reach this point in their careers. For that reason, he said after coming to the Garden from the South Shore, they understand the tenor of the city and its people. They relate to Boston’s hardened, blue-collar spirit.
And that’s a piece of why Methuen’s Dave MacDonald sees the expressions of the athletes as pure and genuine. This is a city where “the bombs go off and the people are running in,” he said. The players know that, and “they understand their surroundings.” They appreciate it all enough to be real.
“I don’t think they’re playing it up at all just because they’re part of the team,” MacDonald said. “This is one of those cities where guys can either become part of Boston or they can’t. You had those Adrian Gonzalezes, those Carl Crawfords, who didn’t fit in. Then you’ve got guys who roll in here – [Jaromir] Jagr, automatic, he fits in – who understand the tempo of the city and the attitude.”
It's a tempo and an attitude that some can't keep up with and can make some feel unwelcome. But at the same time “it’s hard not to get sucked into this city," Greenwood insists. "It’s a place where we might seem a bit abrasive at first, but we band together and we really care about each other.”
And that's why sports are so important to this city in general -- and particularly in times like these. At their essence, team sports are about a collection of people coming together to confront a challenge and pursue a common goal, putting in the requisite work and picking each other up along the way, then trying to do their best and prove themselves winners in the face of any obstacle.
This week, that became the mission of the city itself as much as it has ever been for the Bruins, the Celts, the Pats, or the Sox.
And Bostonians of all types say it does indeed mean something to be reminded -- tweet by tweet, interview by interview, gesture by gesture -- that everybody, even the athletes, is on the same team.
“Absolutely. Absolutely. Hundred percent. It makes all the difference," Greenwood said. "Everybody’s having such a hard time; it’s a tragedy that happened. It’s hard to deal with, and it just shows that everyone is banding together -- all together.”
All for one, you might say.
"This isn’t just a place that they work," Kenney said. "For many of them this is as much their home as it is mine.”
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