You Gotta Have Heart

The culmination of my week long social circuit 2 weeks ago was the New York BBWAA dinner that took place at the New York Hilton on January 25th. This event annually attracts the game’s biggest stars as post season awards, including the MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year, are handed out. The 2014 BBWAA dinner also included some of the greatest players in history, as Hank Aaron joined Miguel Cabrera, and Sandy Koufax joined Clayton Kershaw on a star studded dais. I was invited, and accepted before the invitation could even be completed, to share a few remarks about the 2013 season and to present the “You Gotta Have Heart” Award to Boston Detective Kevin McGill who was on site during the marathon bombings. Rather than attempt to highlight such a phenomenal evening, I decided to instead post the text of the speech I gave to nearly 1,000 guests in attendance.

I’m not terribly certain how it came to be that I would be standing in front of you at baseball’s most prestigious dinner alongside the most elite performers in 2013.  I was narrowly outpaced by Miguel Cabrera in the MVP race, falling exactly 44 home runs and 137 RBIs short.  

I speak to you instead, as a representative of the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox, and as a citizen of a city devastated by unthinkable tragedy and rejuvenated by unexpected triumph.  For this, I feel exceptional pride, humility, and responsibility.

In preparing this evening’s remarks, I navigated through a mental rolodex of public speaking dogmas: I thought of humor, charisma, and cadence, but when I stripped down the trivialities, I was left with a single, overarching theme.  Tonight, I strive to accurately, candidly, and appropriately portray exactly what it was to be a member of the Boston Red Sox through the 2013 season.

A common inquiry into any successful exploit goes something like “when did you realize you had the chance to do something special, or more specifically, when did you think this team had a chance to win the World Series.”  It is no secret, prognosticators, several hundred of whom may be sitting in front of me, handicapped the odds of the Red Sox becoming World Champions as “unfavorable” Fortunately, no current member of the Red Sox have active BBWAA membership cards.  The truth is, even independent of the benefit of hindsight, this group had a unique confidence that was palpable on the first day of spring training.  Ben Cherington and John Farrell were far more ambiguous about the prospects of the 2013 team, but players talked about winning the World Series in line for physicals before our first team workout.  I can say unequivocally, that I have never played on a team that prioritized winning above any individual accomplishment or personal achievement moreso than this team.   The clubhouse was less a place to store uniforms and equipment, than a classroom for baseball education.  Winning the World Series was as much a product of chemistry, selflessness, and will as talent, execution, and management.   Those things, and of course, David Ortiz.

Reflection on 2013 invariably takes us to April 15th, as on that day the city of Boston was changed forever by the profound evil of two self-radicalized individuals.  Much like other epic moments in history, many of us remember our exact whereabouts when we heard of the marathon bombings.  I was recovering from a shoulder injury at our spring training facility in Florida, and wanted to check in with a friend who had run the marathon.  Amidst a benign text conversation, he sent a message that read “something just happened, something really bad, like a bomb.” Minutes later, news spread of two explosions near the marathon finish line.   Photos of that horrific scene will forever be etched in our memories.   Inconceivable tragedy was mitigated only by the selflessness and bravery of first responders and bystanders.  

In the days that followed, law enforcement executed an unprecedented lock down and manhunt, culminating in the identification and capture of both perpetrators.

In the weeks that followed, the residents of Boston, seeking answers and seeking solace turned to each other, turned to law enforcement, turned to their leaders, and turned to the Boston Red Sox.   The phrase Boston Strong became ubiquitous, contagious, visible over social media, on tee shirts, bumper stickers, and most notably on the Red Sox jersey hung in the dug out every game that followed the marathon bombings.  On April 20, baseball returned to Fenway Park.   A montage aired on the jumbo-tron in a moving tribute before the game.  First responders were welcomed onto the field alongside injured survivors.  And in a moment we will never forget, David Ortiz delivered a certain warning about exactly whose city this is. 

In a game that could not have been scripted better by a screenwriter, Daniel Nava hit a dramatic come-from-behind home run in the bottom of the 8th inning, and we won the game 4-3.  Winning was certainly fitting for such a significant day.  But the truth is, we also could have lost.  The importance of that day was that we played.  That 36,000 fans in the stadium, and millions more at home watched a team shoulder the burden of helping a city recover by doing what they had always done, by simply playing a game.  

We understood our role in helping our city move forward.  We visited hospitals and hosted victims.  We donated money and time.  And we lent our celebrity to causes.   But most importantly, we never lost sight of reality.  The reality that no home run, not even a post season grand slam, will allow an amputee to walk again, and no victory, not even a world series championship, could fill the void left by losing a son or a daughter, a brother or a sister, a mother or a father.  And finally, we learned about courage.  We learned about people willing to run toward an explosion, while thousands of others ran away.  We discovered the meaning of heroism, and we learned just how strong we are.

Tonight, in Kevin McGill, we honor a Boston Detective who lived under the umbrella of anonymity until that fateful April Day.  We recognize a man who put others before self and who sprung to action during our city’s most dire moment.  Tonight, we acknowledge a true hero.   The You Gotta Have Heart Award recipient, Kevin McGill.

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