The last year has been unbelievable for Boston, in every sense of the word. When we won the World Series at Fenway Park in October, it was the best kind of unbelievable—it had been 95 years since a Red Sox team clinched a championship at home. Being able to do that for our fans was an incredible feeling.
Six months before that, the bombing at the Boston Marathon was the worst kind of unbelievable. I was out of town that day, on an injury rehab assignment in the minor leagues, and when I saw what went down I was in shock. Something like that should never happen anywhere. But especially not at the Marathon, which represents so much that is good about sports, about this city and about this country. The Marathon is about competition. It's about athletes pushing themselves past their limits. And it's about helping out other people. So many runners every year are there to raise money to fight diseases like cancer and diabetes. We all know someone who suffers from those things. Working and competing to help those people is beautiful. Why would anyone ever want to attack that?
One thing that has happened isn't unbelievable to me though: the way people in Boston and around the country came together in such a dark time. On the day of the bombing I can't say I knew how the city would react. I had never thought about how we'd handle something like that because I never dreamed we'd have to. But when I saw how people helped one another and stayed positive, I wasn't surprised. I've seen so many great things since coming to this country from the Dominican Republic, and one of them is how strong we can be in tough times. I will never forget that. Seeing Boston regroup the way it has over the last 12 months has been awesome.
People made a big deal about what I said last year at Fenway Park, when I spoke before our first home game after the bombing. I didn't know what I was going to say before I went out on the field. I just knew that I was angry. I was frustrated. I was emotional and maybe a little scared—I felt the same way everyone else did. I think we're all the same: In bad times we look for someone to help us through, like a superhero in the movies. When I said, "This is our f------ city!" I wasn't trying to be that hero. I was just expressing what I was feeling: I was looking for a hero to protect what was ours. Our city. Our Marathon. Our way of life. When I said what I said and I saw the look in people's eyes, I knew we would be all right.
The Marathon reminded me that life can change in an instant. It's easy to forget that, especially for athletes like us. It doesn't matter if you won the World Series or if you're a regular person cheering on a runner, you never know what can happen in the next moment. I thought of this again a few weeks ago when our team visited Walter Reed hospital in Bethesda, Md. We met lots of brave men and women, soldiers who had sacrificed everything—their arms, their legs, the lives they once had—for us. It's important to stay humble and be social, to be someone who wants to help other people. A lot of us forget that.
If I had to make a speech this year on Patriots' Day, I'd say, "God continue to bless America." Because even though it began with so much pain and tragedy, the last 12 months have been a blessing. To see a city and a country stick together after a horrible event, to recover as quickly as we did, well, that's a blessing. That could only happen in one of the greatest countries on earth.
I love the Marathon. There's no chance in hell I could run such a long distance—I can barely run the bases anymore—so I have great respect for those runners. In past years I always walked down near the finish line to watch when our game at Fenway was over, to cheer on the runners with my family. I'll be there this year for sure. Maybe I'll try to take selfies with as many people as I can while I'm there—that will be my marathon. That's the great thing about this race, and this city and this country. No matter what happens, what anyone tries to do to us, we will always find a way to stay strong.
Even though it began with so much pain and tragedy, the last 12 months have been beautiful. To see a city and a country stick together after a horrible event, that's a blessing.
How has a team helped your town cope with tragedy?
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CHAD MATTHEW CARLSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED