BOSTON – It was a bright, sunny morning Tuesday at Sugar Heaven as I walked inside the bulk candy store on Boylston Street just as it opened at 10 a.m.
There’s a giant blue M&M figure at the door to greet visitors. Inside is an entire wall of jelly beans. There are giant suckers in the middle of the room, more candies on the other wall, even an ice cream parlor downstairs. Your inner kid comes out.
I’ve been in the store a few times on Sabres road trips. Truth be told, I can’t resist the Jelly Bellies. But I came back this time because of what happened just outside the front door a little more than six months ago.
The first bomb that marred the finish of the Boston Marathon and jarred a nation detonated outside of Marathon Sports, the store connected to Sugar Heaven.
Wounded spectators staggered into the candy store and first responders who got to them made tourniquets out of candy ribbons, probably just like the silver one that sealed my bag of goodies.
“It seems about once a day somebody comes in asking about it,” said Hannah Earley, 20, a Massachusetts College of Art and Design student manning the front counter. “We understand it’s a topic of interest. It’s a very sensitive spot for a lot of people, but most of them are not disrespectful at all.”
The shock of the Marathon bombing has borne a movement called “Boston Strong.” And carrying the torch higher than anyone else have been the Red Sox.
Much like the Yankees were a source of inspiration in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks, the Red Sox are back in the World Series carrying the hopes of their legion of fans across the country – and lifting hearts in their wounded hometown.
They open the series tonight in Fenway Park against the St. Louis Cardinals and there was all kinds of talk Tuesday about what the team has meant to its city in these tough times.
A Boston Strong logo with the giant Red Sox “B” is mowed into the grass in center field at Fenway. A blue circular logo is on the famous Green Monster wall in left field.
The Red Sox had just beaten Tampa Bay in their annual 11 a.m. game on Marathon day and were leaving Fenway on the bus to Logan Airport when they heard the sirens and starting getting texts with the words “bombs at the marathon.”
When they got to Cleveland, the Red Sox had a jersey made with uniform number 617 (the city’s area code) and hung it in their dugout. It’s been there all season. Third baseman Will Middlebrooks wrote “Boston Strong” on his cleats, tweeted a picture of them and the name stuck.
“It’s special, really special but not just for me,” Middlebrooks told me here Tuesday. “For this team and this city, it’s amazing how this team came together. Baseball is life for a lot of people here. They love it. They live it, they breathe it. It’s so important to them. We take pride in that, and we want to play well for them.”
“It was real quick to where a slogan almost turned into a lifestyle,” added outfielder Jonny Gomes. “Real quick. It wasn’t just be strong. Everyone can tell their individual story, but the way Boston has rallied around it, the way these players have rallied around it, is awesome.
“There’s support, there’s strength, happiness and the occasional sadness. But it’s carried a lot of weight.”
The Red Sox were a disaster last season under manager Bobby Valentine, finishing with a 69-93 record that was their first losing season since 1997 and worst record since 1965.
They’ve bounced back this year with better players, a healthier team and a new manager in former major-league pitcher John Farrell, who threw in three different seasons for the Buffalo Bisons.
When Farrell’s players returned home from their April road trip, they fanned out in five groups of five to visit hospitals and first responders. The Red Sox hosted an emotional pregame ceremony honoring victims, their families and the responders at Fenway the day after the second suspect was captured and the manhunt that closed the city down was over.
It famously ended with slugger David Ortiz, the team’s most beloved star, grabbing a microphone and railing, “This is our bleeping city. And nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.”
The Red Sox won that day, 4-3, on a three-run homer by outfielder Daniel Nava and they’ve kept winning, all the while watching victims at the ballpark all summer throwing first pitches and showing they are strong in their recoveries. Cheering for the Red Sox has helped.
“It’s been a galvanizing force for this group,” Farrell said. “All we tried to do was pitch in to the rest of this city to help those affected and not let that day go forgotten. Our organization has done a great job acknowledging those who responded and those who have suffered.”
“It’s great for the city that they’ve had a good season,” Earley said. “It’s been great for community unity. The feeling you get is the kind of thing where it doesn’t matter if you’re with strangers. You think ‘Boston Strong’ and you just say to yourself, ‘Yeah.’ ”
Just three years ago when the Sabres were here to meet the Bruins in the Stanley Cup playoffs (remember those?), I got done with the teams’ morning skates and was thrilled to be in town the day one of the great annual spectacles of sports was taking place.
The finish line of the Boston Marathon? That was a bucket list item. I was so there.
I serpentined through the crowds that lined Boylston and took up a position just before the finish line by the iconic Boston Public Library. It was awesome.
The flags of all the nations represented flapped in the breeze. There was the applause of the crowd, the PA announcer urging support for the runners as wave after wave pushed themselves across the line painted on the street and under the giant banner across it that signified the finish of the 26.2-mile endurance test.
By the time I was ready to go about 90 minutes later, I was pretty hemmed in by people and police barricades. It’s nerve-racking to ponder now in the wake of what happened.
I was on the opposite side of the street from the two explosion sites by Sugar Heaven/Marathon Sports and the Forum restaurant. A bomb going off near where I was standing? There was no escape.
That’s what happened on April 15. The carnage, as we all know, was terrible. There were more than 200 injured. Sixteen people lost legs; two lost both legs. Many others had limbs gone in an instant.
“This team took what happened to heart,” said pitcher Jon Lester, who will start tonight’s opener. “For us to give the city that glimmer of hope I think really helped the city, helped us as a team. To get to this point in this year is just huge. It makes people forget. If we can take people’s minds off their injuries, their suffering, that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Back at Sugar Heaven, it’s hard to forget because of the new normal. People crowd around the yellow finish line painted on the street taking pictures. From inside, you could see people pointing at the store and taking pictures without ever coming in.
As I finished talking to Earley and thanked her for her time, we both looked out the front window and saw a TV crew pulling over its car and taking its equipment out. Same drill. Filming the finish line on the street, and then pointing the camera toward Sugar Heaven and then toward Marathon Sports.
“They might be coming in here like me,” I said, reminding her visits might be more than once a day with hundreds of reporters from around the world in town for the Series.
“It’s OK,” Earley said. “Maybe they’ll buy some candy, too.”