MILWAUKEE – Alfonso Soriano turned on the television in his hotel room, flipped to the MLB Network and saw David Ortiz grab the microphone at Fenway Park in front of some 35,000 fans.
During Saturday’s emotional pregame ceremony, Ortiz reminded everyone the jerseys across their chests said “Boston,” not “Red Sox.” Big Papi thanked Mayor Thomas Menino, Gov. Deval Patrick and the local police for their strong responses to the Boston Marathon bombings.
The day after a manhunt put the city on lockdown and left one suspect dead and another captured, Ortiz and his deep, booming voice went viral, summing up the mood throughout New England.
“This is our (bleeping) city and nobody is going to dictate our freedom,” Ortiz said, raising his right fist into the air. “Stay strong!”
The Cubs had Boston’s 4-3 comeback win over the Royals playing on the flat screens around the visiting clubhouse at Miller Park. Some 850 miles away from Yawkey Way, Soriano broke into a big smile and tapped his chest while thinking of Ortiz.
“I (bleeping) laughed, because I know how he’s feeling,” Soriano said. “He’s ‘The Man’ in Boston. What he said, he said from his heart. He’s mad about what happened in Boston. That’s who he is. He expressed himself (and) you could tell he talked with his heart.
“He sent a message about how he feels about Boston and how he feels about the people in Boston.”
Ortiz and Soriano became friendly while playing on opposite sides of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. They share the same agent, Fernando Cuza of SFX Baseball, and have met up back home in the Dominican Republic a couple times over the years.
The Cubs have tried to become the Red Sox of the Midwest, and they felt waves of emotions watching the nonstop coverage of the city turning into a war zone. (Some in the clubhouse also couldn’t help but laugh at some of Neil Diamond’s dance moves while singing “Sweet Caroline.”)
As a Red Sox prospect, first baseman Anthony Rizzo received treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma at Massachusetts General Hospital. Boston manager John Farrell has a son, Shane, working for the Cubs in the amateur scouting department.
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Team president Theo Epstein used to live about a block from where the explosives detonated on Boylston Street. His twin brother Paul ran the marathon for charity and crossed the finish line before the attacks.
“You see the darkest side of humanity with someone wanting to harm innocent people,” Epstein said, “and then you see the best side of humanity, too, when you see people running towards an explosion like that to help out people who were in harm’s way. It’s not a surprise knowing the first responders in Boston and the great job they do and the courage they have.”
General manager Jed Hoyer – who helped Epstein build two championship teams in Boston – explained how Marathon Monday might be the best day in the city all year.
Patriots Day is a Massachusetts state holiday, an annual sign of spring fueled by the city’s college students. You watch the Red Sox in the morning and the marathon in the afternoon and then party all night.
The bombings shattered that innocence forever. Manager Dale Sveum – the third-base coach for the 2004 Red Sox team that reversed the curse – watched the Fenway Park scene on television.
“It was a pretty emotional day and easy to tear up,” Sveum said. “I caught Big Papi…it was a fitting statement for the day.”
Soriano remembered how the Yankees became America’s Team after 9/11, as well as the grace shown by Joe Torre and Derek Jeter while visiting with the grieving families.
That morning, Soriano had woken up in his place in northern New Jersey, not far from the George Washington Bridge. He turned on the television and wondered what movie it was before changing channels. He kept flipping and saw the same haunting images of the Twin Towers. He looked out the windows and saw the smoke rising from the New York skyline.
Soriano doesn’t think the two tragedies should be compared. But he felt it was important for Big Papi to speak his mind the day baseball came back to Boston.
“He’s ‘The Guy,’” Soriano said. “Whatever happened in the city, happened to him, because he’s part of the city. When he said (that), he said it from his heart.”