BOSTON — It shouldn’t matter as much as it seems certain to matter Friday, when the Royals meet the Red Sox at Fenway Park in the first ballgame in this city since Monday’s tragedy.
It’s only baseball.
But Royals reliever Bruce Chen was on the mound on Sept. 21, 2001, at Shea Stadium as the starting pitcher for the New York Mets in their first home game following the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
He has an idea of what to expect.
“There are going to be a lot of emotions,” Chen said, “and the fans will have mixed feelings. They won’t want to be there, but they’ll also want to cheer for their team.
“The game is something that gives them hope and is something that helps them to keep going. We’re all concerned about the security, but one of the things we’re doing is trying to help the city get back to a sense of normalcy.
“Right now, all they see is bad, bad, bad. If you can go back to what you used to do, even for a short time ... it’s a small step, but it helps.”
Details are still emerging from the bombings Monday near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, which serves as the centerpiece of the city’s Patriots Day celebration.
Those festivities always include an early start game at Fenway Park. The Red Sox had already pulled out a 3-2 walkoff victory over Tampa Bay when the explosions killed three and injured more than 170.
“It’s a pretty cowardly act by the people who did it,” said reliever Tim Collins, who grew up in nearby Worcester. “I didn’t have family members there, but a lot of people did. That’s going to be a tough time for them.”
The Royals are staying at the Westin Copley Place hotel, which is serving as the command center for the investigation. Security is tight. It is tight throughout the city. It figures to be especially vigilant Friday at Fenway.
“It’s definitely something that you think about,” said catcher George Kottaras, who lived near the bomb scene in 2008-09 while playing for the Red Sox. “If it can happen once, it can happen again.”
The Royals are bracing themselves for who knows what. The traveling party arrived Wednesday night, after a 1-0 victory at Atlanta, and had all of Thursday to immerse itself in the city’s tragic aftermath.
“It definitely hits you that we’re playing in the first game back in Boston,” outfielder Jeff Francoeur said. “I’m sure they’re going to do some pregame ceremonies, and there won’t be a dry eye in the stadium.
“We’ve been talking about that, a bunch of the guys. Tim is right. It probably will be the safest place in America (because of all of the security), but I think it will also be a sad place.”
Royals manager Ned Yost was a coach on the Atlanta team that faced Chen and the Mets on that memorable night in 2001. He, too, has an idea of what to expect Friday and realizes there is no way to prepare for it.
“It’s going to be a pretty emotional night,” he said. “How do you prepare for anything like that? How do you prepare for somebody lighting a bomb off when everybody is having a good time. You can’t.”
But Yost, like Chen, also knows what Friday — and this whole weekend series — can mean to a grieving community.
“It sounds stupid because you really don’t have much of an impact,” he said, “but you just go and be with the city. Baseball promotes healing for everybody. And don’t ask me how.
“It just makes you feel better if you can go to a baseball game. It’s America’s pastime, and it just helps heal. I’m glad that we’ve got the opportunity to go in there and help that process.”
Chen pitched seven wonderful innings that night at Shea Stadium. He allowed just one unearned run but settled for a no-decision because Jason Marquis, then with the Braves, was also in top form.
What Chen recalls vividly is how the crowd of 41,235 reacted when the Mets took the field, when he threw the game’s first pitch and when they pulled even after the Braves scored that unearned run.
Mostly, he recalls the joy that engulfed Shea when the Mets scored twice in the eighth inning before holding on for a 3-2 victory. It spread to Queens and throughout the city.
“That was the first time,” Chen said, “you could see a bunch of New Yorkers, in a long time, smile and have a good time. Before that, everyone was just so sad.
“So I can imagine how the people in Boston are. We know this game is important for Boston. I’m not saying they will forget (what happened), but it will be a diversion.
“They are used to watching the Red Sox play, and they will get to do that again. It will help to bring a sense of normalcy to the city. Are we afraid it could happen again? Yes, we’re a little afraid. Everyone is.
“But it’s important for us to play that game and help people get back to what they normally do. It’s amazing what baseball can do.”