All right, all of you sports-mad New England moms and dads, and big sisters and big brothers, and, yes, of course, you beloved uncles and cool aunts too. I’ve got a question and I’d love to hear your answers.
When you’re paying your fandom forward and teaching your family’s next generation to love Boston sports — just like someone once taught you how to do, presumably — what experiences are part of this deliberate and delightful indoctrination?
Oh, sure, the games and personalities themselves are sometimes — often — enough on their own. We do not lack for mesmerizing star power around here. A couple of couch-bound September Sundays spent watching Brady-to-Gronk or an October night when Big Papi launches one toward the moon is darned near a foolproof way to win over a young fan for life.
But in my experience — and this is a common belief — the best memories are made live and in person. You remember watching that great sports moment on television, sure. But you savor the experience of being there when it happens. It’s the difference between remembering something and having it become a part of you.
So what are those gotta-be-there moments, the must-attend events, distinctive to Boston and certain to make a fledgling sports fan think: This is awesome. I get why everyone cares so much now. I want to be a part of this..
What would they be? That first trip to Fenway, of course, when your eyes introduce you to the most beautiful shades of green you have ever seen. Actually, that happens on ensuing trips, too. All of them, forever, even for the cynics.
Perhaps a parade should be on the short list, when our latest champion rolls through the city on — speaking of distinctively Boston — a Duck Boat? The party on wheels has become familiar over the last decade and a half. I think it’s safe to say this will never get old. But we should probably have a half-dozen or so more in the next decade, just to be sure.
There are subtler things, too. Buying the kid that first Bruins shirsey — you cannot go wrong with No. 37, right? Or the forever-in-style No. 4? Checking out the Red Auerbach statue and Larry Bird’s bronzed Converse outside Faneuil Hall, perhaps followed by an early-evening showing of 1985-86 Celtics highlight clips on YouTube. That’ll make the kids understand our reverence for the Legend.
But the most obvious opportunity to share with someone that ultimate communal Boston sports experience? Well, it’s today. All of it. The Patriots’ Day marathon/baseball daytime doubleheader isn’t just the definitive experience here. I can’t think of another city that comes close to matching our long-running dual-sport tradition on the third Monday every April.
(No, New York, the early September Sundays when the Yankees are in contention and the Jets are coming off winning another offseason do not count.)
The Boston Marathon is the marathon, the most famous race in the world, continually run each year since 1897. It coincides with a morning ballgame that is just a short jog down the street from the finish line. The first pitch has been set for right around 11 a.m. since 1968.
It used to be that the two events featured a perfect kind of symmetry — the Red Sox game would often end right as the elite runners were coming down Boylston Street toward the finish, allowing for fans leaving the ballgame to hustle over and witness the winning runner as he broke the tape. That doesn’t happen now — the marathon start time was moved up in 2007 — but the day still provides a wonderful confluence of events.
Patriots’ Day means no school and a three-day weekend for the majority of New England, opening up the possibility of a fun family field trip on the April calendar. Whether you hang out near the finish line — that’s what I did the first time I came down with my Maine-based folks in the mid-’90s while my sister was a student at Emerson — or head to Hopkinton, Heartbreak Hill, Wellesley College or any other vantage point on the course, cheering on the runners is a fun and fulfilling opportunity to play a part in the convivial vibe of the day.
There is of course added significance to the race now, a subtext of poignant remembrance that will never fade. The bombings of 2013 brought devastation and heartbreak, as designed by the brothers-in-evil who plotted and executed their unthinkable plan.
Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu and Sean Collier are on our minds so many days, but forever on this day.
But two years later, there is comfort to be found in this: What was designed to break us brought us closer.
I’m reminded of the words of Shalene Flanagan, a Marblehead native and world-class marathoner who led through Mile 19 of last year’s race before falling back to seventh. She found herself in tears after crossing the finish line, disappointed that she could not hold on. She explained that she had run the course six times since the previous September, determined to win the year after so much was lost.
“I have fallen in love with this course. I had so much fun preparing for this race. I wanted to use that as an advantage,” said Flanagan. “I knew every little divot in the road. I knew where every Dunkin’ Donuts was, where every Wendy’s was.”
Flanagan struck me as a person who embodies the best of the marathon and its unique energy — where else are you going to find an elite athlete who recognizes that every Dunks on every street corner can pass for a landmark?
Flanagan is one of us, and everyone in this city — probably in this state, actually, and perhaps in this region — has a personal connection to the marathon. It is a world-renowned sporting event that belongs to you, me and our friends and neighbors, now more than ever.
We’re united in enjoying this day just like we always did, even as the enjoyment we get from, say, watching those exhilarated, exhausted, foil-wrapped runners rejoice with their families is now accompanied by a permanent and proper solemnity.
Make no mistake. This is our holiday, and it’s our race, in, as a certain Red Sox slugger put it two years ago, our [expletive] city.
If you want someone you love to love Boston sports, let me give you this surefire way to make it happen.
Bring them to the heart of our city this morning. It’s there you will find our city’s heart, and once you find it, it will never let you go.