Illustration by Nicole Rifkin

“This is our f–king city.”

Take a trip into Boston and you’ll see that even five years later, those five words are inescapable. In the city they’ve become everything from a rallying cry to a T-shirt sold around Fenway after Red Sox games to something screamed in a Boston University dorm room after beating someone in FIFA. They’ve become forever intertwined with one of the region’s biggest sporting legends: David Ortiz.

Ortiz had already cemented his legacy as one of the greatest players in Red Sox history. But that speech took Big Papi’s legend to another level, to that of city icon, with no disclaimer that he’s an athlete.

“It’s right at the top of the defining moments that establish David as the most important player in our history,” says Sam Kennedy, Red Sox team president. “I say that with all due respect to all of the other great players, Hall of Famers, other perhaps more talented baseball players, whether you’re talking about Ted Williams or Carl Yastrzemski. The list goes on and on. What he did for the city that day helped lift the spirits when we needed it most.”

All it took was five words. 

               

Marathon Monday, April 15, 2013 

It had already been a particularly great Marathon Monday, with a walk-off Mike Napoli double off the Green Monster to clinch a Red Sox victory after an 11:05 a.m. start. The game ended at 2:10 p.m., and with a road trip to Cleveland scheduled, the Red Sox got on the bus to head to Logan International Airport. They had started the season without Ortiz, who was still recovering in Pawtucket from an Achilles tendon injury that ended his 2012 season.

Charles Steinberg (former senior advisor to president Larry Lucchino, current president of Pawtucket Red Sox): Monday, April 15, 2013, was an extraordinarily beautiful day. You don’t know what you’re going to get on Patriots’ Day in Boston. It has the full range of weather options. This day was particularly gorgeous.

Kennedy (former Red Sox COO, current Red Sox president and CEO): It’s like a national holiday in Boston that we celebrate. It’s my favorite day of the year going back to middle school and high school. You’d always try to go to the Red Sox game if you could find the ticket and then walk out and go enjoy the marathon.

Shane Victorino

Shane VictorinoElise Amendola/Associated Press

Shane Victorino (Red Sox outfielder 2013-2015): You don’t base a schedule around another event. … No, in this situation, it’s the city of Boston. It’s the marathon. It’s bigger than the Red Sox.

At 2:49, just 39 minutes after the Red Sox’s 3-2 walk-off victory, the first bomb at the finish line exploded. Twelve seconds later, the second went off. The terrorist attack killed three and injured at least 264, including 17 people who lost limbs.

Jonny Gomes (Red Sox outfielder, 2013-2014)We actually thought, when we were in the clubhouse, that a transformer blew upa loud bang, nothing to worry about. But then by the time we got on the bus, which wasn’t too much longer after, obviously social media and then the graphic pictures started to come out and it got real, real quick.

Ortiz (Red Sox designated hitter, 2003-2016): I was getting ready to play for Pawtucket, and then all of a sudden, the crazy stuff happened. When you see people going down like that, it was like, What in the world is going on? Who in the hell would come out with ideas to hurt people while trying to raise money to help people?

Gomes: We’re going to the airport. We’re getting passed on the other side of these fleets after fleets of fire trucks, police cars, ambulances going into town. That was probably the eeriest feeling of, s–t’s going down right here.

Jack McCormick (longtime Red Sox traveling secretary): It took us about 45 minutes, an hour, to get out of there because they had a ground hold at Logan that day, thinking that someone might try to escape through the airport.

          

Boston Strong, Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Red Sox get to Cleveland, where they hold a team dinner. Twenty-three of the 25 players attend, more than on a typical road trip. At 6:33 a.m. the day after the bombings, Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks tweets, “I can’t wait to put on my jersey today… I get to play for the strongest city out there. #BostonStrong.” The hashtag immediately becomes the city’s rallying cry.

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Will Middlebrooks (Red Sox third baseman, 2012-2014): As far as the tweet with #BostonStrong, athletes in Boston have a platform. Whether they like you, love you or despise you, they read, they listen, they ingest every bit of what you say. I had zero intention to think of something that would catch on like that. I just tweeted it from my heart, something I truly felt.

Gomes: Boston Strong was gaining steam. We thought that we should put it on a jersey and put 617, the Boston area code, underneath it. Tommy [McLaughlin], our clubhouse guy, just took it and ran with it. Within no time, he had that jersey sewn up and ready to rock.

Victorino: You saw the Boston Strong being posted all over the place on social media. It became the clause or hashtag that kept that city molded together.

Back home, Ortiz continued his rehab while Boston went on lockdown in search of the bombers.

Ortiz: It was my first year starting on the DL. The team was traveling. I was home and rehabbing with the Triple-A team in Pawtucket. Everything went down when the team was on the road and I was at home.

Kennedy: The streets were literally empty because we weren’t supposed to be on the roads. Fenway is such a high-profile, important landmark. Charlie Cellucci, the head of security, was at 4 Yawkey Way. He was standing there with his gun, not drawn, but on a belt clip. He was defending the ballpark with the rest of our guards.

The Red Sox returned from Cleveland on Friday morning, scheduled to play the Kansas City Royals that night.

John Carter (director of Red Sox productions): While we’re trying to prepare for how we’re going to honor, at the time, the three victims, fatal victims, and obviously the hundreds more who were injured, we started thinking about how we could do that.

Lucchino (former Red Sox president, current chairman of Pawtucket Red Sox): There was no question in our mind that we should do it because there was so much public interest in spirit and connection that had to be encouraged, celebrated, appreciated.

The Red Sox canceled their Friday game against the Kansas City Royals as the manhunt continued.

Lorenzo Cain (Kansas City Royals center fielder, 2011-2017): Team was on lockdown, players told not to leave hotel rooms. We just ordered a bunch of room service.

Eric Hosmer (Kansas City Royals first baseman, 2011-2017): The hotel was surrounded by media trucks, military trucks. I remember getting in an elevator with Anderson Cooper. You just realized how nuts it was. The president came the next day. … It was a long couple of days.

Kennedy: We had updates every single day from city hall, Mayor [Thomas] Menino himself directly. We were just watching it all unfold. The mayor really wanted us to play on Friday the 19th. We said we would try to do it, but there was a shelter-in-place ordinance and nobody was allowed out of their home. The mayor was really angry that we couldn’t play on Friday.

Steinberg: At 6:00 p.m. on Friday, approximately, the law enforcement and state and city officials tell us to resume our lives, which is not a great source of comfort because they haven’t found someone who’s on the loose, and we’re going to have a ballgame tomorrow afternoon. Larry Lucchino called me. I said, “I’m not thrilled about this.” The idea of having 35,000 people come over to your house for lunch when there’s a killer on the loose is disquieting.

At 8:42 p.m., Boston police arrested the second terrorist, who was hiding inside a boat in Watertown, a suburb.

Lucchino: I remember I was talking to a friend, a former CEO of an NBA team. She went to Opening Day and thought our ceremony was wonderful, but she gave us an A-minus. “Why is that?” I asked. “Because you didn’t really have a player speak. There’s something important about that.” I had that in the back of my mind after Opening Day.

         

Before the Game

With the manhunt over, the Red Sox were scheduled to play a 1:10 p.m. game against the Kansas City Royals on Saturday, April 20, 2013.

Dave O'Brien

Dave O’BrienBillie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Dave O’Brien (former Red Sox radio broadcaster, current Red Sox television broadcaster): It was so eerie to come to the ballpark that day because there was still so much lingering fear and anxiety in the city. … Every single person who came into Fenway Park that day, a player, a broadcaster, an usher, we felt the same sense of anxiety.

Sarah McKenna (Red Sox vice president fan services and entertainment): The ceremony was coming together quickly. I was running down to reception, and they said, “Neil Diamond is on the phone.” We had no idea he was coming. … He said, “We just felt like we had to be here,” after ballparks around the country were singing “Sweet Caroline” in the eighth inning as a tribute to Boston. It was 10 minutes before the pregame ceremony was supposed to start, and that was the first that we knew that he was in Boston.

Ed Davis (Boston police commissioner, 2006-2013): Both the mayor and governor and the state police and the FBI, we had been in the trenches up until a few hours before that. It was the first chance we got to take a breath and talk to each other. There was a cathartic feeling. It’s over.

Carter: I’m rarely nervous at work. But I was nervous that day because I knew all eyes were on us. I’m praying that our sound system works, and the microphone, which is a wireless microphone, isn’t going to cut out. I’m praying that we don’t have any technical issues in the control room with the video.

Steve Buckley (sports columnist, Boston Herald): The little things jumped out at me, the fact that the Red Sox on that Saturday wore home uniforms that had the word Boston printed across the front instead of Red Sox. It was like on that day, while we are the Red Sox, we also are Boston.

Davis: They invited the police, and I can remember standing there on the field in shock. For us, we realized how serious the situation was, but I don’t think we realized the magnitude of what was happening as far as the media and community. We were so engaged in the pursuit and making sure that we got these guys. It took us a day or two to understand the effect it had on the country. It started to sink in while I was there on the baseball field.

Steinberg: How do you go from that to playing baseball? It’s an emotional leap. That’s when I said, “We need an elbow. We need a transition. We need something to take us from the gravity of this ceremony that will somehow let the fans be ready to play baseball.” That’s when the notion of having David Ortiz be the punctuation mark arose.

McKenna: The moment we figure that David would be there for that game, we knew it had to be him.

David Ortiz

David OrtizMaddie Meyer/Getty Images

Ortiz: I was one of the guys who was on the team the longest. Because of it, it was like the military. The longest tenure you have, you’re the one who does things. I was the general of the ballclub because I was there the longest. In the middle of the ceremony, they asked me to say something to the fans.

Gomes: I didn’t know he was going to talk. Once you get inside the Red Sox uniform, you realize the magnitude of this man, David Ortiz. The outside looking in, he’s another sportsman you’re playing against. But when you get into the clubhouse, this dude just fricking grabs the wheel and tells everyone to jump on the bus he’s driving.

Ortiz: I wanted this whole town to feel that this wasn’t the one thing we wanted to stop us from being who we are. These people wanted to put a stop to what we loved doing. This is the type of thing that gets into your head, and all of a sudden, you don’t want to go into a restaurant or go into the hallway. They want to you to stay at your house so the whole city stops functioning. I wanted to make sure that people moved on and showed to all of these bastards that that was not how we rolled.

McKenna: I asked him to say a few words. David has an ability to connect with people that a lot of people don’t recognize. He truly feels connected to the city. We felt like we needed something and someone needed to say something. It just all came together.

Ortiz: I was by the dugout when she asked me about it. Walking towards the mound on the field, I thought about everything.

              

The Speech

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