The week before the Boston Marathon, Greg Colbrunn took a different way home from his job as a Boston Red Sox hitting coach.
“I wanted to go down Boylston Street,” he said from Fenway Park. “It’s my first year here in Boston. I wanted to see what the Boston Marathon finish line area looked like.”
Colbrunn is a Mount Pleasant resident when he’s not helping Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and other players make progress. But a big league baseball career has put Colbrunn close to big city terror, and the comforting power of sports.
The last week has been a blur of Fenway Park healing. There were tears for the Boston Marathon bombing victims and triumphant versions of “Sweet Caroline” — some taped, one with Neil Diamond himself leading the Fenway chorus.
There were quieter acts of kindness.
“Some of our players went out to the hospitals (early this week), and they wanted to do it without any media attention,” said Colbrunn, 43. “They wanted to go that first Friday when we got back into town, but the whole town was a ghost town with the shelter order. There is such a closeness between the Red Sox and Boston, and the players are just so connected to this community.”
Bush’s first pitch
Colbrunn is in his first season with the Red Sox after serving as a Charleston RiverDogs coach or manager for six seasons. But he has a unique perspective on world-shaking terror and American sports reaction. No one else in a Red Sox uniform took part in the 2001 World Series just six weeks after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center towers.
Colbrunn watched from the Arizona dugout with fellow Diamondbacks as President George W. Bush threw out a heart-tugging first pitch before Game 3 at Yankee Stadium, approximately 12 miles from “Ground Zero” in Manhattan.
Bush wore a bulletproof vest.
Derek Jeter, the Yankees shortstop, tried to loosen the tension.
“Don’t bounce it,” Jeter said to Bush, “or they’ll boo you.”
It was a perfect strike.
“That was amazing, with all the emotions he had to be going through,” Colbrunn said. “The Secret Service was everywhere. You had snipers all around.”
The Yankee Stadium crowd erupted into a “U-S-A!” chant. Bush smiled, and later revealed in a Time magazine documentary that it was the “most nervous” moment of his presidency.
The Diamondbacks went on to upset the Yankees in seven games, and Colbrunn returned to his Mount Pleasant home.
For the Red Sox, the “Boston Strong” season is still young.
The initial horror unfolded in real time. A Red Sox home game is an annual part of Patriots Day, and a 6-3 victory over Tampa Bay was already in the books when the bombs went off on Boylston Street. The Red Sox were on a team bus preparing to depart Fenway Park for a flight to Cleveland.
“We heard about explosions, and everyone got on Twitter or their mobile devices,” said Colbrunn, whose wife Erika and three daughters have remained in Mount Pleasant for the school year. “Since then, it’s been surreal.”
Not a dry eye
Boston let out a collective sigh at a Saturday home game against Kansas City.
“It was just so emotional,” Colbrunn said. “Baseball is one of those things that can really bring people together. I don’t know if there was a dry eye on our team. It wasn’t sad, but it was intense.”
The Bush pitch had a much different feel.
“It was a little uneasy,” Colbrunn said. “There was still a lot of concern about what might happen. It was in New York, and you never knew quite what to expert with the World Series coming in.
“The first game in Boston was more like relief. Like, ‘OK, we got the guy and that’s pretty much it.’ I didn’t get the sense that people were worried about something else happening.”
But Colbrunn’s take on the Fenway Park ceremonies also applies to the 9/11 tributes at Yankee Stadium.
“You never want to be a part of something like that,” Colbrunn said, “but you’ll never forget it.”
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter: @sapakoff.