BOSTON — This town hasn't healed yet.
It takes more than six months for safety to supplant fear and for calm to wash away terror. What happened on April 15 — when bombers killed three people and injured 260 during at an attack at one of the town's most enduring sporting events, the Boston Marathon — still lingers.
There's the "Boston Strong" rallying call. The "B Strong" etched onto the Fenway Park grass during the World Series games. These gestures have tried to put an uplifting spin on a tragic day. But it's tragic just the same.
The Boston Red Sox going to the World Series helps. The Boston Bruins of the NHL going to the Stanley Cup finals helps. Sports help. But they don't heal.
Just ask Michael Chase. He was one of the ordinary people who assumed a hero role on April 15. He was near the marathon's finish line, enjoying the day with at Atlantic Fish Co. with his wife and some friends. He's a high-school soccer coach from nearby Danvers.
Chase, 34, and Matt Patterson, 30, an off-duty firefighter, rushed into the bombing aftermath, helping pull a 7-year-old boy to safety. Like many of the average joes turned first responders, Chase was invited to come visit Fenway Park in the ensuing weeks. He met David Ortiz and Will Middlebrooks. He watched batting practice. For him, like so many other Bostonians, the city's climb back to normal mirrored the Red Sox' climb from a last-place finish in 2012 into first-place in 2013.
When the Red Sox did it, clinching a trip into the World Series again, it was like the whole city did it. Chase, like everyone else, heard Shane Victorino, whose grand slam won Game 6 of the ALCS, in his postgame interview. "Boston!" Victorino called out. "Boston strong."
But for Chase, joy competed with panic as he watched the Red Sox celebrate their victory.
"That was an anxiety provoking experience," Chase says. "I'm thinking about -- what if? I'm thinking about the fans that are going to gather at Fenway. I'm thinking about the security again."
Such is the case with tragedy. Sometimes it all comes rushing back. There's not a day that goes by, Chase says, that he doesn't think about what happened the day of the bombings.
The Red Sox, for their part, have upped security in the postseason. They've been playing these postseason games without incident so far, but the World Series is a bigger stage.
"We have taken additional security precautions during the postseason, including mandatory wanding and bag checks for all fans," says Zineb Curran, the Red Sox's director of corporate communications. "We have continued to make more frequent ‘sweeps’ of the ballpark with bomb sniffing dogs (something that we always did but became more frequent after the marathon), and we will have additional security personnel on hand for the World Series games."
For the Red Sox, defending their city meant more than adding extra security measures. It meant 617 jerseys and Boston Strong in the outfield. It meant David Ortiz telling the world whose expletive'n city Boston is. And it meant him reiterating that, albeit less profanely, when the Sox reached the series.
"Regardless if there was the bombing or anything, this is very important to the city," says third baseman Will Middlebrooks. "With the tragedy that happened, it adds so much more. All the families we met and all the people we saw in hospitals, I can't even explain how much it means. We're going to do our best to pull it out for them."
For people like Chase. For people who have to live with amputations and scars and trauma from the bombing for longer than seven more baseball games. For regular people who live here but don't feel as safe in crowds anymore.
It's why the Red Sox went beyond inviting affected Bostonians to games (that did happen a lot). But players went to hospitals, on their own time, without the media following them. Because this wasn't a PR stunt, it was an obligation to the city.
"We spoke a number of times about that event being somewhat of a galvanizing force for this group," manager John Farrell say. "What's been most impressive is some of the individual outreach by our players, without any acknowledgement, the genuineness in which the players have done that, whether it's hospital vistas, whether it's leaving ticket for individual families or first responders. All we tried to do was pitch in to the rest of the city to help and to, more than anything, not let that day go forgotten."
Let's not pretend that sports are so all-important that this is anything more than Neosporin and a Band-Aid on a wound. David Ortiz is not a doctor. Mike Napoli's beard cannot stop nightmares.
"It's something that's never going to be forgotten," Napoli says. "But I think this helps. They're so passionate abut their sports here. They love this. They're going to be excited about this. This definitely helps."
Some people knit blankets to help in tough times. Some people donate money or have a bake sale. The Red Sox play baseball. And this year, they did it better than anyone thought. One good surprise after one bad one.
"This is a bunch of guys who shouldn't have been here," Chase says. "The team has overcome adversity like a lot of us have since that day. There are some amazing parallels there."
And if the Sox win the World Series, then what?
"It would be one of the biggest moments in Boston sports history," Chase says, thinking back to the 2004 championship for a comparison. "To win the first one in that many years, that was outstanding. On the heels of what's going on right now, this one would go down as one of the greatest titles ever."
Forty-five minutes before the first pitch of Game 1 of the World Series, Chase tapped a text message into his phone and hit send.
"It's been a tough six months," he wrote. "We need a win. #BostonStrong."
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