Playing the Field: Boston, Papelbon play the ‘what-if’ and ‘why’ game

Jonathan Papelbon lived in close proximity to where the second bomb went off on Boylston Street in Boston during his tenure with the Red Sox. (Getty Images)
Jonathan Papelbon lived in close proximity to where the second bomb went off on Boylston Street in Boston during his tenure with the Red Sox. (Getty Images)

It’s nearly impossible to cover marathons or any type of road race as a sports writer. There are thousands upon thousands of men and women barreling in, one after the other after the other after the other, across the finish line. Trying to find that certain runner who has a local tie, that certain someone who would make for a great local story in a sea of humanity or trying to fight off a big wig, contractually-tied TV reporter for an interview with the actual winners of the race for just one, out-of-breath and usually incoherent quote is typically a venture doomed for failure.

That was my reasoning for staying away from the Boston Marathon finish line Monday. Today, I’m thanking God that I’m so damn cynical (and/or lazy).

When a tragedy occurs like the one that hit Boston Monday, a million “what-ifs” and “whys” race through your head. One of the whys that I struggled with was, “why does sports even matter on a day like this?”

Yes, we will read and hear a million stories over the next few weeks about how sports is a “nice release” for everyone in Boston. That’s true. At its best, sports truly is the greatest form of escapism. If you’ve never seen HBO’s Nine Innings from Ground Zero, a documentary about how baseball lifted the city of New York after 9/11 attacks, do yourself a favor and cue it up on Netflix. It will convince you that the cliche is so.

Nonetheless, all these Boston sporting events will feel entirely different going forward. You’ll wonder if it’s really that important to catch Game 3 of the Celtics-Knicks first round series next week live and in person at TD Garden when you could just watch it on TV at your home instead … away from a place where another tragedy could hit.

My cynical radar made quite a bit of noise again early in the evening on Monday when I read the headline, “Former Red Sox closer Papelbon’s thoughts are with Boston.”

Why would this guy, who bolted the Red Sox after their tumultuous September of 2011, care? He’s in Philly now. He willingly left Boston. He’s a fraud.

But then I read that as Papelbon and Phillies teammate Cliff Lee were watching coverage of the Marathon bombings on a TV in the team clubhouse, Papelbon was immediately spooked by the fact that he used to live “right above” where the second bomb went off.

Sure, Papelbon is a multi-millionaire. And yeah, he plays a child’s game as his occupation. But Monday, he was as human as it gets. He was frightened. Playing that horrible game of “what-ifs” and “whys,” just like you and me.


Follow Metro Boston sports editor and columnist Matt Burke on Twitter
@BurkeMetroBOS


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