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'Sweet Caroline': Red Sox come home to big love

Story highlights

  • The Red Sox returned to Boston on Friday for the first time since the marathon bombings
  • People have been singing "Sweet Caroline" at Major League Baseball games all week
  • The Neil Diamond tune is a Fenway Park bottom-of-the-eighth ritual
  • Mike Downey says, "Getting to a finish line is of no meaning if no one is there to care"

"I measure every grief I meet

"With analytic eyes;

"I wonder if it weighs like mine,

"Or has an easier size."

-- Emily Dickinson

To sing Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" is not a sickeningly sweet way to show how you feel today about Boston.

    It's a charming way, if you ask me. Because, as wise ol' Neil puts it in another oldie, "Me and you are subject to the blues now and then."

    So, come on, let's hear it. Sing a song sung blue.

    It's what red-eyed Red Sox fans did, loud and strong, on Saturday when their team came back to its own diamond for the first time since the Boston Marathon bombings -- and Diamond himself showed up to lead the crowd.

    I know it's what Yankee fans did a few nights ago in New York, where a singalong of "Sweet Caroline" in that team's stadium would normally be about as welcome as a German anthem in "Casablanca" in Humphrey Bogart's bar.

    Indian fans, Cub fans, Marlin fans and others have sung it at recent games as well in Boston's honor. Which is totally cool of you all.

    It's what a Cardinal or Oriole or Jay or Ray or A fan could do at a home game to show solidarity, not unlike nine of Jackie Robinson's disciples all running onto a field wearing 42.

    It wouldn't kill a Phillie fanatic, a Brave soul or a Met soprano to belt out a stanza's worth of "Sweet Caroline" for one inning, even if not everybody is in agreement with the line that goes, "Good times never seemed so good."

    It can happen anywhere

    Neil Diamond tweeted a thank you to New Yorkers -- "you scored a home run in my heart" -- for warbling his ditty in their city, inasmuch as his long-ago ode to Caroline Kennedy has over the years evolved into the Red Sox's good-luck tune.

    OK, so it's not the hippest verse on Earth.

    OK, so the judges from "The Voice" would probably cover their ears.

    OK, so this isn't a song up for a Grammy so much as it is a song that's sung around the house by your Grammy.

    An innocuous song isn't a life-altering tribute, any more than "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" years ago lessened the pain of loved ones heartsick about missing daughters and sons.

    But sometimes, hey, it really is the thought that counts.

    Boston, we are with you.

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    For those of us not fans of your teams (or New York's), it wouldn't normally break our hearts if we woke up to find out that Major League Baseball wants to move you 3,000 miles to be the Boston Red Sox of Anaheim.

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    Today, though, I and others like me would gladly link arms with Ben Affleck and Stephen King and James Taylor and don a cap with a big "B" on it and stand by your side, crooning about "Caroline" as if if it were the greatest musical composition since Mozart's.

    I cannot conceive of what the sorrow must be like from Monday's horror, any more than I could a while ago when innocent Connecticut children were killed. Dickinson, the gentle "Belle of Amherst," summed it up as well as anybody could in her poem, "I Measure Every Grief I Meet."

    "I wonder if it hurts to live,

    "And if they have to try,

    "And whether, could they choose between,

    "They would not rather die."

    Events such as these cause many of us to re-evaluate what matters most. Getting to a finish line is of no meaning if no one is there to care. Winning a race is irrelevant if no one is waiting at its end to give you an embrace.

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    I covered a couple of Boston Marathons, back when it was several times more famous than any other marathon in America, or maybe the whole world. I can't recall if back then New York even had a marathon.

    To see that city on Patriots' Day was quite a sight. It wasn't a Fenway crowd or a Garden crowd. It was the whole commonwealth of Massachusetts, or felt that way, lined along the sidewalks and streets. What a civic pleasure.

    Alas, life has a way of interfering with our enjoyment of it.

    Terrorism was so rampant in Europe once when I went to Paris to attend a Tour de France, the sign identifying the bureau my newspaper shared with NBC on the Champs Elysees had to be masked with tape, I suppose so no mad bomber could easily find it.

    That same year, 1986, a bomb was placed at the Eiffel Tower but failed to explode. A couple months after the bike race, bombs went off in a Paris town hall, then a casino, then at a police headquarters. Many died. Many more were maimed.

    Roughly 10 years later, I was in Atlanta, winding down from a long day, when we heard a distant boom. Blocks away, a pipe bomb had gone off in Centennial Olympic Park, right in the middle of the 1996 Olympic Games.

    One dead, 111 injured. (A cameraman also died of a heart attack.)

    A lot of us who didn't care at all about Atlanta turned into Atlanta fans that day.

    We brace for the worst, but it shocks us anyway.

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    Boston is our latest casualty.

    We outsiders can't do much but sympathize with you. And, yes, sing with you.

    How is it Neil Diamond's other song goes again? The one sung blue?

    "Funny thing, but you can sing it with a cry in your voice. And before you know, you start to feeling good. You simply got no choice."

    Today, I am from Boston.

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