Author's cut of the article as it appears in the June 2013 edition of New England Baseball Journal Magazine.

05/17/13: While the marathon bombers were on the run in Watertown, Mass., the Watertown High varsity baseball team was mentally preparing to play Arlington High at Victory Field at home the next morning. That game was postponed while the entire town was placed on unprecedented lockdown.

Watertown High School players line up in Watertown Strong T-shirts at Victory Field.
Watertown High School players line up in Watertown Strong T-shirts at Victory Field.

Raiders senior pitcher Gabriel Rodriguez might have missed action on the field, but he was exposed to more action than he could have ever imagined as the manhunt took off outside his home.

“I heard one explosion from my bedroom,” Rodriguez said. “Then I looked out my window and saw a few cops going by. It was nothing big. And then I looked into the distance and saw a big fireball in the air. That’s when I knew something wasn’t right. Five seconds later, I saw 20 cops coming down my street. From there, the cops took over. They told everyone to stay indoors. No one could come out at all. It was a pretty surreal moment.”

Raiders coach Aram Manoukian has lived in Watertown his entire life and considers himself a Watertown townie. He’s in his 10th season coaching baseball for Watertown, second with varsity, and also is a math teacher at Watertown Middle School. He was on his way to the orthodontist when he heard about the Boston Marathon attacks earlier that week.

“I heard Mazz and Felger on 98.5 say that an incident happened at the marathon,” Manoukian said. “They said they didn’t know if it was a store explosion or something else. My first inclination was to go on online and check the Facebook and check the texts to make sure nobody I knew was hurt. I knew some teachers that were running. One of our principals from our school system was running. Of course, there were all kinds of friends of mine that were down there. I was pretty nervous. I knew for a fact that there were some students that I teach at the middle school that were at the bombsite. It definitely hit home.”

It only got more frightening later that week when the manhunt came to Watertown and gunfire exploded outside his window. Manoukian was on edge.

“I thought I was inside of some crazy nightmare,” the coach said. “I was just shutting my television off and opening my window and turning my light off to go to bed. Just as I opened my window, I heard these loud cracks. It sounded somewhere between fireworks and the gun going off for a track meet. They were very loud. I looked outside my window and saw cops swarming in. I live about three blocks away, maybe about 200 yards. I heard the whole thing. The explosions. It was pretty horrifying. When you saw the amount of police that were coming in to get these guys … you just knew it was them.”

Watertown High School coach Aram
Manoukian was eager to get on field.
Watertown High School coach Aram Manoukian was eager to get on field.

Of course, we all know the story of the Tsarnaev brothers by now.

After a few days trapped in the house, and exactly a week without a game at Watertown’s Victory Field, Rodriguez was eager to get back onto his home field. The game against Arlington that was postponed was reschedule exactly a week later — and quite a crowd was on hand.

“I’m pretty proud to be wearing my Watertown jersey tonight,” he said. “I can’t wait to play for my town tonight.”

Coach Manoukian agreed: “Pregame, it’s all about pride. As soon as the first pitch happens, it’s business as usual.”

It was anything but usual. Before the game, Watertown Athletics put on a moving pregame show to celebrate the local police and fire departments. Mike Lahiff, the director of athletics, was master of ceremonies.

“It is no secret that it has been a tough week for everybody here in Watertown and everyone else throughout the Boston area,” Lahiff said. “Yet instead of backing down, the community came together and provided a unified front. Sports also has a way of bringing people together so we decided to use tonight as a way to show our appreciation for the first responders, and also to remember the lives lost during this tragedy.”

Lahiff then thanked the Arlington baseball team for its participation before asking the crowd to join him in a moment of silence for those who lost their lives in the marathon bombings and its aftermath.

Among the 11 first responders being honored were Watertown Fire Department firefighters Patrick Menton and James Caruso. They were the first on scene to help save the life of MBTA Transit Police officer Richard Donohue Jr., who suffered a bullet wound during the gunfight that ultimately led to the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

“You can imagine being a firefighter, not wearing S.W.A.T. gear, and not being armed, and going into a scene like that to save a life,” Manoukian said. “It’s got to be nerve wracking.”

After the local heroes were introduced, Watertown catcher Erik Antonellis received ceremonial first pitches from firefighter Patrick Menton and police officer Tom Dicker. Watertown High School sophomore Sara O’Connell sang the national anthem.

Then it was just another baseball game. But the score wouldn’t matter, because Watertown already won.