Image of Boston Marathon changed forever

John Gilbert

Drew LeBlanc of Hermantown and the St. Cloud State Huskies, won the 2013 Hobey Baker Award. -John Gilbert photo
Drew LeBlanc of Hermantown and the St. Cloud State Huskies, won the 2013 Hobey Baker Award. -John Gilbert photo

 

You probably remember where you were, exactly, when the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center took place on 9/11/01. If you’re old enough, you also remember exactly where you were when John F. Kennedy was shot. It will be a similar memory, that will come back with haunting regularity, about where you were and what you were doing when you heard about the bombs that blew up at the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15, 2013.

    The date itself won’t be that significant, tax-day or not. But from now on, whenever you hear about the Boston Marathon you will think of the chaos we all witnessed, mostly by video replays that seemed interminable throughout the afternoon and night of Monday.

     I had gone home, after my morning radio show on KDAL, which got the bulletin just as we were signing off that Rita Jeptoo of Kenya had won the women’s portion of the 26.2-mile Boston Marathon, in 2:26:25. We announced that, just as the closing music was playing, and we were done. The significance of that is that we were all hoping that our own Kara Goucher might pull off a huge upset and win, or at least run with the leaders. Turns out she did, finishing a strong sixth at 2:28:11.

   My Monday routine included meeting a fellow who had driven up from Chicago to exchange test-drive cars with me for the upcoming week. Then I drove home. I had to write a few things on my computer, so I heated up some leftover warshue duck from the Chopsticks restaurant, then I flipped on the radio for background sound and started in on the computer. It was about 2:20 p.m. when I heard Joe Soucheray say, almost casually, that he had just seen a bulletin saying there was “some kind a bomb went off at the Boston Marathon.”

    I leaped up and ran across the room to turn on CNN, and saw the earliest replays of the first explosion, and I noticed the finish-line timer read 4:09:43. The men’s winners had clocked something around 2:10, so obviously this was occurring two hours after the first finishers had crossed the line. On the second replay, I noticed a puff of smoke on the left edge of the screen. It was the second explosion, a block or two away. It was nearly an hour later before the television folks realized that the second puff of smoke was even visible, and by then, on about the 20th replay I watched, I had counted off from the finish-line timer that the second blast had happened exactly 11 seconds after the first.

    The chaos that was evident, and completely understandable, was gripping, and to me, there was also a vague sense of familiarity. When I realized the finish line was on Boylston Street, it hit me. And when the announcers talked about Copley Square, and a witness said he had been watching from where “Comm Av and Mass Av” intersected, I realized that the area was a place I had visited often. I’ve never been to the Boston Marathon, and I never realized that the finish line was right on Boylston Street, and Copley Square, and the wonderfully nicknamed Mass Av (Massachusetts Avenue) and Comm Av (Commonwealth Avenue). It right there, near Northeastern University, and closer to Boston University.

    When I wrote for the Minneapolis Tribune, I made dozens of trips to Boston to cover the North Stars playing at the Bruins, and the University of Minnesota hockey team playing at Boston University, nearby Boston College, as well as Northeastern and, right across the Charles River, Harvard. I’ve also covered the Minnesota Twins playing the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park, back at about the same era. I’ve stayed at the Mandarin Hotel, which is right near where the second bomb went off, and I’ve frequently wandered around Copley Square, and enjoyed the BU Bookstore, which was the only place I could buy the giant yellow legal pads, college ruled, on which I would chronicle an entire season of pro, college, and high school hockey games. That area has big, wide sidewalks, the better for window-shopping or just walking along.

    In the aftermath of the horrible tragedy, in which at least three people died, and a dozen more had limbs blown off by shrapnel, among the 173 injured, it took several hours before anyone had the courage to utter the word “terrorist,” even though the person or persons who planted those crude, but cruelly effective bombs was, or is, a terrorist. A person doesn’t have to belong to Al Queda, or to a White Supremacist group, or any other organization to be a terrorist, but there is no mistaking that someone who executes an act of terror is, by definition, a terrorist. There is a report that a publication put out by Al Queda urges followers to read instructions in how to make a bomb, and then look for large gatherings of people and try to create as much devastation as possible. It urges committing such acts anywhere, but preferably in the U.S.  We don’t know if the perpetrator of the bombings in Boston was part of such an organization, or acted alone, or took inspiration from such outrageous writings. We’d just like to see the criminal or criminals brought to justice.

   From a thousand miles away, we can identify with the shock and terror that everybody at the scene felt. We can sympathize with the victims, and we can be thankful that those we might have known at the scene escaped injury. We can listen to some “expert” on television talk about how many mistakes, or oversights, there were to allow this to happen, but there is no way to assure safety, and to insulate ourselves from some deranged or driven person who is intent on committing this sort of act. We are a nation who likes to blame someone for making an error that might contribute to something so evil, but nobody was guilty of any mistake in this case, and only the person or persons who planted the bombs is guilty of anything.

   But we can never let our guard down.  At an airport, or a shopping center, or an event, or anywhere. The Boston Marathon comes on Patriot’s Day in Boston, to celebrate the Revolutionary War battles of Lexington and Concord, if memory serves me. Schools are let out, and the civic mood is celebratory. The Boston Red Sox are playing their home opener at wonderful Fenway Park, which is only a few blocks away from the scene of the finish line. With 23,000 runners, and hundreds of thousands of people crowding toward the finish line to watch, along with the schools being out and the Red Sox throng, it is one of the biggest scenes in the country.

    We now must worry about upcoming major events, such as the Kentucky Derby, and the Indianapolis 500 -- other places where huge crowds of people.

    Life will go on, and we’ll watch some beautiful scenes of nature, as well as some spectacular sporting events. We will enjoy them, all of them. But from now on, whenever we hear the two words Boston Marathon, our minds will immediately flash to April 15, 2013. Even if we forget the actual date, we won’t ever forget what happened there, and how it changed all of our lives.

HOCKEY STILL
IN THE AIR  

     It was a superb NCAA hockey Frozen Four, and Yale was the perfect champion, defeating No. 1 ranked Quinnipiac in the championship game. Who could have ever guessed that two ECAC teams would make it to the final? Both were quick, balanced, strong offensively and defensively, and in the end, Yale’s combination of quickness and tenacity won out -- just as it had been in upsetting Minnesota, and North Dakota, then Massachusetts-Lowell, before knocking off a Quinnipiac powerhouse that had beaten Yale all three times they met earlier in the season, by a combined total of 13-3 goals.

   St. Cloud State got to the Frozen Four, then had a horrendous start, getting down by three goals before getting into their game against Quinnipiac in the semifinals. I felt bad that seniors Drew LeBlanc of Hermantown, and Ben Hanowski of Little Falls, didn’t really do their thing at the Frozen Four. But as if to prove that life goes on, LeBlanc went on to win the Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s best college hockey player, the day after St. Cloud’s crushing loss. How great is it that the 2012 Hobey Baker winner was Jack Connolly from Duluth and UMD, and the 2013 winner is Drew LeBlanc, from Hermantown and St. Cloud State? We’d never had an actual Duluthian win the Hobey, and now we have two in a row.

   Hanowski, meanwhile, signed with the Calgary Flames, went off to Calgary instead of taking his final exams, and scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game -- against the Minnesota Wild, even -- as the Wild beat Calgary 4-3.  

   Maybe it won’t be such a tough transition to springtime after all. We still do get to have springtime, don’t we?

   For a while it appeared sports fans in Northern Minnesota would be left to consider shoveling and watching the ice floes go back and forth from the Duluth Harbor as the only verifiable spring “sports.”    All we really had to cheer for was the Minnesota Wild, and just about then Matt Cullen and Dany Heatley went down with injuries and the Wild seemed to go into the old, familiar free-fall that we’ve seen from many of our other sports teams in recent years.

    Fortunately, Cullen returned from that dreaded “lower body” injury, and the Wild, who were 1-4-1 during his absence, won that big 4-3 game at Calgary on Monday, and followed it up with a 5-3 victory at Edmonton on Tuesday. That sent the Wild winging on to San Jose for a Thursday night date, right in the thick of the playoff scramble in the Western Conference, but suddenly looking like the tight race couldn’t throw anything at them that they can’t handle.

TWINS ON THE RISE

   There are no guarantees that the Minnesota Twins will rise to contention in the American League, or even that they will ever play a home game with temperature above 50 in their boutique-like Target Field. But as long as we get to watch Joe Mauer hit, all will be worthwhile.

    For the first few weeks of the season, Mauer was mired in a slump the likes of which we’ve never witnessed. He was not getting hits, and more than that, he was swinging and missing. Joe doesn’t do that. But he struck out repeatedly. Three times in one game. And he was hitting something like .225.

    Finally he started to make contact. Then he started stringing hits together. He hit safely in seven straight games going into the series with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, or whatever they’ve decided to call them this year, and he had improved his batting average to .298.

   On Monday, Joe Mauer went 4-for-5 with a home run, double, and two singles, driving in three runs, and his average jumped to .346. On Tuesday, Joe Mauer went 4-for-5 again. Those were the 20th and 21st times in his still-young career that Mauer has gotten four hits in a game, and his batting average skyrocketed to .386. Almost every hit came with two strikes, which is the way Mauer likes it -- getting a good look at whatever any pitcher can throw at him, and then daring him to throw a third strike past him.

    “He is the best hitter with two strikes I’ve ever seen,” said manager Ron Gardenhire, in a post-game press conference after Monday’s game. And then he proved it again, the next night.

    We can cheer the Wild for as far as they can go into the playoffs. And then, no matter how far that is, we can tune in to watch Joe Mauer swing his bat and smack those line drives all over the park. Any park.