BOSTON (CNN) — Little Leaguers parading to their first game is a tradition in the Boston neighborhood of Savin Hill, a sign of spring.
On Saturday, residents lined the street cheering, “Wicked awesome,” as they might do at any time. And as they do every year around this time, youngsters stepped in the batter’s box, stepped back and swung for the fences.
But there was something missing.
Massachusetts is still reeling from the twin blasts April 15 near the Boston Marathon’s finish line. The heartbreak is particularly pronounced in Savin Hill, which lost one of its own — beloved 8-year-old Martin Richard.
This community has been mourning Richard, one of three people killed in the attack, continuously since then. It began when more than 1,000 people, many holding candles and each other, attended a vigil the night after the attack.
Saturday was different, because of the cheers mixed in with the tears.
It was a chance to remember Martin, while also doing what he loved to do, and excelled at — play baseball.
His coach on the Rangers, Mike Christopher, remembered him as a “great kid, the type of kid you want on your team.”
“He was like Mr. Baseball,” Christopher said. “Baseball is not something you pick up easily, and he just had it.”
Frank Baker, a city councilor, described Saturday’s opening-day festivities as a “sad day, but it’s also a good day.”
The reason, he explained, is that events like these bring people together. They can draw strength from each other, helping them to carry on.
“We’re all part of the grieving,” Baker said, “but we’re also all part of the healing.”
That’s one reason why Richard Paris, president of the Boston firefighters’ union, was among those who cheered on the boys as they passed on their parade route. On his back — and that of other firefighters — was a shirt with Martin’s No. 8 team number on the back.
“Make Boston strong, and keep Boston strong,” Paris said. “And it’s going to start here at Savin Hill baseball today.”
CNN’s Bob Crowley reported from Boston, and CNN’s Greg Botelho wrote this story from Atlanta.
For extended coverage on the Boston Marathon explosions, click here.