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Sports & Healing: How Boston Teams Helped City Heal After Marathon Tragedy

BOSTON (CBS) -- The athletes that don jerseys that read "Boston" across their chest are from all around the world.

They come from across the U.S., throughout North and South America and all over Europe. But they all know once they put on that jersey, Boston becomes their new home.

So when the tragic events of April 15, 2013 struck, they knew it was time to step up.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Walt Perkins reports

Sports & Healing: How Boston Teams Helped City Heal

"It was a big shock, and it was kind of surreal," said Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron, who has called Boston his home since being drafted by the Bruins back in 2003. "That whole moment and those days after, everything all together are tough memories to bring back. It was really sad to see and tough scenes to watch.

"After that we didn't really care about a hockey game, it was about the people there and the families affected by all of that," said Bergeron.

Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, who could run for mayor of Boston when his playing days are over, was rehabbing in Pawtucket one year ago, and saw the tragedy unfold up close.

"Seeing things going down that way, who didn't get angry?" he said. "Who didn't suffer from that?"

"This is our hometown, this doesn't happen here," said Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who grew up in Brookline and remembers watching the Marathon as a kid. "It was just a shock."

When the explosions rocked the finish line last April, born in Boston or not, the athletes that represent the city all felt the duty to respond.

"We did feel a great responsibility," said Celtics president Danny Ainge. "As a team, we thought of what we needed to do. Players went and visited with those who were affected and tried to cheer them up the best we could."

"We had to do something for the city to help with the healing. All we could really do was play the game," said Bergeron. "Try to bring some happiness in those tough times. Really rally up and try to do something."

"We just wanted to give people three hours where they could forget about their injuries or a loved one's injuries, or just forget about the whole thing in general," said Red Sox lefty Jon Lester. "Maybe those three hours are happiness and they can cheer us on, forget about it for a little while.

"I think guys took pride in that," said Lester. "We can take this city and put it on our backs and heal together."

"It sometimes goes beyond (playing a game)," said Bergeron. "It's about healing and helping people."

The healing began at the TD Garden just two nights after the bombing, before the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres could even drop the puck. Rene Rancourt stepped on the ice for the national anthem, but after singing the first line, let the TD Garden crowd take over. It was a beautiful show of emotion from the Boston crowd, one the team will never forget.

Bruins Fans Sing National Anthem
Boston Bruins fans sing the National Anthem during pre-game ceremonies in remembrance of the Boston Marathon bombing victims on April 17, 2013. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

"The national anthem was something very special," recalls Bergeron. "Everyone was singing and you could feel the emotions in the building. It was special."

When the tough and extraordinary week was finally over, Ortiz was given the opportunity to address the Fenway Park crowd. He spoke from the heart -- letting all of the world know who Boston belongs to.

"This is our (expletive) city," Ortiz said on national television the Saturday following the bombings, just one day after a manhunt for the two bombing suspects shut down most of eastern Massachusetts.

Ortiz knew he probably shouldn't have used that word as he walked off the mound, but he's happy the message was well-received.

"I screwed up," Ortiz said with a chuckle. "But I saw everybody getting loud and that's what I was expecting from the fans. It was the same way they were feeling."

"Just looking at the crowd and the emotion everyone was living through at the time, it got to me. It got to me," said Ortiz. "I could have said even more than what I said, but I think I relieved a lot of pressure when the team let me go talk to the crowd."

The tributes continued. Victims and first responders were honored at the TD Garden by both the Bruins and Celtics. They were honored at Fenway Park and at Gillette Stadium. It all provided a kind of catharsis for everyone.

Jeff Bauman Red Sox
Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman (left) and Carlos Arredondo (right), the man who came to his aid immediately following the explosions, throw out the first pitch together before the Boston Red Sox game on May 28, 2013. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

"It can help to heal," said Kraft. "It's a momentary thing, like taking medication. But the pain doesn't go away. It can be a distraction and help you get through it. I guess in a way, it can be part of the healing process."

Former Patriots offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi knows that firsthand. He was there in Foxboro in 2001 when Patriots fans honored his brothers -- New York City firefighters and 9/11 heroes.

On Marathon Monday, Andruzzi himself became a first responder while waiting for his foundation's runners to cross the finish line.

"Sports is a big, huge healing process," he said. "I truly believe that. We saw that after 9/11, and we saw it this year with the Bruins and Red Sox."

The Red Sox brought the euphoria back to Boston sports with their World Series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, clinching the fall classic at Fenway Park for the first time since 1918.

"Being there and seeing the Red Sox make that last out (of the World Series), it turned around a whole stadium. We were there hours after the game, and everyone was still there. It was an amazing feeling," said Andruzzi. "My wife and I love to say we're adopted Bostonians."

The finish line is no longer just a place for runners to celebrate their accomplishment or tourists to snap a picture for their scrapbook. It is now a hallowed ground. And in the midst of the city's biggest celebration since last April's tragedy, the Red Sox remembered and paid their respects by placing the World Series trophy and the "617 Boston Strong" jerseys that had been in their dugout during the season on the finish line.

Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes lays the World Series trophy and the 'Boston Strong 617' jersey onto the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street during the World Series victory parade. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

"The trophy on the finish line, the jersey on top of it, it was kind of like us turning the page," explained Lester. "We'll never forget, but at the same time we're moving on from it."

"I think hopefully for a lot of people that were involved with it, that was their closing time too. It was a great moment in time, it was a great season, but we're moving on from it. Hopefully we're stronger for it."

Wherever they are on Marathon Monday this year, they'll be watching; cheering on the runners and pulling for Boston as the healing continues.

"'Boston Strong' was there to let us know 'yes we can,'" said Ortiz, who hopes to be at the finish line this year.

"It's 'bring it on,'" Kraft said. "Because we're going to stand up to you."

"It's team," Andruzzi said of the phrase. "That team coming together as one. A team as one is a lot stronger than one, so Boston coming together, leaning on each other through those tough times, that's the biggest thing we can push toward being 'Boston Strong.'"

"We're moving forward, and we're moving forward stronger," said Andruzzi.


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