STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
World Series begins tonight. The Boston Red Sox host the St. Louis Cardinals at Fenway Park. Fans will take the chance to pay tribute to victims and heroes of this year's Boston Marathon bombing. To many, the Boston Red Sox' worst to first season symbolizes the Boston strong resilience the city has emphasized since that marathon. NPR's Tovia Smith reports.
TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: We might as well just stipulate from the get-go that no group of guys playing ball on a field could ever compensate for the lives or limbs lost at the Boston Marathon. Of course not. But fans says what the Sox are doing this season is a little more than just winning ball games.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It goes well beyond sports for sure. You know, these players are showing that we're winners and saying, look at us, world, we were knocked down but we're not out.
SMITH: Kristan Fletcher and Courtney Hughes admit they're not quite diehard fans, but they came to Fenway to buy team jerseys, hats and beards to outfit all the doormen at the hotel where they work. As they put it, it just makes everybody feel better.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I think we lost a little bit of ourselves and we're getting it back now. Exactly. I mean it's just - Lord knows, this will just be the little boost that we need.
SMITH: Indeed, Sox fan Michael Fournier says he purposely took a detour to work just to pass by Fenway and bask in the glory. Even if you're one who usually cringes at the whole sports as metaphor for life thing, it's hard to resist the parallel, he says, of the city's recovery from the darkest of places and the Red Sox' rise from rock bottom.
MICHAEL FOURNIER: It's like our backs were up against the wall and somehow we always come back. Boston strong. We just keep pumping.
DAVID ORTIZ: I just want to say one thing, this is our bleep city.
SMITH: Red Sox slugger Big Poppy or David Ortiz offered the clean version last week of the defiance he first expressed without the bleep shortly after the marathon.
PETER DIMARTINO: I just got goosebumps, like the whole crowd was into it. The place was electric, you know.
SMITH: Peter DiMartino, who was severely injured at the marathon, hobbled onto the field at Fenway to throw out a first pitch last spring and then a little more steadily this month as he and his fiance were invited to shout out: Play ball. In rehab, DiMartino says, he continues to make progress and take steps that once felt impossible, and he says he is buoyed and proud to see his team do the same.
DIMARTINO: The Red Sox are just one step away from being back on top again, and Boston is showing everybody else who's boss.
SMITH: The Red Sox say they've been more inspired by the survivors and heroes of the marathon than vice versa. They say it galvanized the team and continues to motivate them. The Be Strong logo still flashes at Fenway just as it does in pubs and souvenir stands around the city. But there are some who scoff at it all, saying the slogans and merchandising trivialize the tragedy and never should've stretched into the post-season.
KYRA CHAMBERLAIN: You want to keep the experience positive of the World Series, and to make you think about the Boston bombing, it brings you down immediately.
SMITH: Boston fans, Kira and Scott Chamberlain say it's time the Sox separate from the marathon attack.
SCOTT CHAMBERLAIN: Drop it. It's over. Okay? It's gone. It's history, okay? It's a new time. It's a new day. Move on.
SMITH: Besides, as tempting as it is to hitch the city's spirits to the Sox' success, it's also a risky proposition. It's all good as long as they're winning.
(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)
DIMARTINO: I'm knocking on wood right now.
SMITH: Marathon survivor and Sox fan Peter DiMartino won't even utter the what-if.
DIMARTINO: That's not gonna happen.
SMITH: To Boston fans it would be a kind of poetic justice to see Boston a world champ this year. Even one St. Louis fan lurking outside Fenway half-conceded the point. We're not giving away a World Series, she said, but if Boston wins, it would do their hearts good. Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.