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G-Braves, PawSox salute Boston

Teams wear throwback caps, raise funds for bombing victims
May 7, 2013

LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. -- The teams wore identical throwback Boston Braves caps, a fitting display of unity.

From a distance of more than 1,000 miles, the Gwinnett Braves and Pawtucket Red Sox paid tribute to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and helped raise funds for

It was "Boston Strong Night" at Coolray Field and four Boston athletes-turned-Atlanta-area residents opened the event Tuesday night by throwing out ceremonial first pitches before the International League game.

"I have two homes in my heart, one here and one there," former Red Sox catcher and captain Jason Varitek said. "Boston will always be a big part of me. But I think everyone feels a connection to Boston now and wants to do what they can to show it. What happened was a hit to the whole country."

Varitek threw out the opening first pitch, followed by former New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, former Boston Celtics guard Dee Brown and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who attended Boston College. All wore special G-Braves jerseys.

Surprisingly, Ryan's strong throw might have missed the strike zone the most. "Maybe I should warm up," he said earlier.

Baseball was just a part of the evening, though, and not really the most important part as Pawtucket handed Gwinnett its 10th straight loss, 7-3.

"I feel fortunate to be able to be take part in something like this," Ryan said. "Boston is obviously a town that is very important to me and my wife, having gone to college up there. I'm happy to help any way I can."

That was the feeling of G-Braves general manager North Johnson and his staff, who immediately decided to do something to aid the victims of the bombings. Johnson thought it would be most meaningful to stage a fundraising event when Pawtucket, the Red Sox's top affiliate, was in town.

"But I was afraid we might be late to the party," Johnson said. "I thought a lot of teams would do something."

Instead, the G-Braves turned out to be in the forefront.

"I'm thankful that we could do our little part," Johnson said. "The bombing didn't affect just Boston, it affected all of us."

For every ticket sold on a special online site, $5 went to Money also was raised by a silent auction of autographed items from the first-pitch participants, as well as members of the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox.

Also auctioned off were golf outings with Varitek and Harrison, as well as a basketball training session with Brown.

As part of the Boston theme, the background of the videoboard at Coolray Field was turned green and players walked up to the plate to the music of Boston bands like Aerosmith, the Dropkick Murphys and New Kids on the Block. Boston Strong emblems were painted behind home plate.

The most emotional moment came in the eighth inning, when -- like at Fenway Park -- "Sweet Caroline" was played as the crowd of 4,033 stood and sang along.

"The Marathon runs right through the Boston College campus," Ryan said. "Some of my best memories are of hanging out with friends to watch the runners come through and then heading downtown to the finish line."

That, of course, is where the bombs went off, killing three and injuring more than 200.

"We sent out mass texts, trying to find out if everyone we knew was accounted for," Varitek said. "We had just gotten back from Boston and it was the first time in years that my wife had missed the Marathon. We have a friend whose girlfriend had to have a lot of surgery."

Alfredo Aceves was with Boston at the time of bombings. On Tuesday night, the veteran right-hander was the starting pitcher for Pawtucket and worked seven innings for the win.

Afterwards, winning bidders came down on the field to have the game-worn throwback Boston Braves hats autographed.

"Boston is Boston strong," Varitek said. "They're great people and great fans to play for. They'll get through this, and everybody wants to let them know they're with them."

Guy Curtright is a contributor to