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Buster Olney on M&M: Sports can provide ‘some relief from the unbelievable grief’ in wake of a tragedy

04.17.13 at 1:02 pm ET
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ESPN’s Buster Olney spoke with Mut & Merloni on Wednesday about the aftermath of the bombings at Monday’s Boston Marathon, as well as Clay Buchholz‘ start to the year and the Sox’ pitching in general.

Olney, who grew up in Vermont and went to high school in Massachusetts, said he knows the people of Boston already are working to move on from Monday’s tragedy and prove their resilience.

“I run and have always thought of Boston as the best running city in the world — the great paths along the Charles River — and the thought popped into my head on Monday night, knowing the people in Boston and knowing the mentality of people in those situations, that there already were people thinking, You know what, Tuesday is Day 1 of the preparation for the [2014] marathon, whether you were going to run it or be a spectator, because that’s how people move on and that’s how they persevere,” he said.

Having covered the Yankees in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, Olney said he believes sports and athletes can help provide relief to those who are grieving.

“Being around those Yankee players [after 9/11], you literally had guys talking privately about, ‘Why are we even here? This isn’t good, we shouldn’t be playing these games,’” Olney said. “And then the day after 9/11 ‘€¦ a group of them went down to the Armory where family members were waiting to hear about loved ones ‘€¦ and Bernie Williams saw a woman standing there crying, and he walked up to her and said, ‘I don’t know who you are, but you look like you could use a hug.’

“And right then, I’ve had so many players on the team tell me that they understood exactly how they could help. They totally embraced that. The Mets did, too. They understood that, even if it was for five minutes at the Armory or three hours at night, that they could provide some distraction, some relief from the unbelievable grief people were feeling.”

Olney said he’s not surprised by the outpouring of support for Boston from cities across the nation, and that he expects that spirit to continue as the Red Sox visit other cities.

“Not a surprise at all,” he said. “I saw that in covering the Yankees. Their first games after 9/11 were in Chicago and people were holding up signs saying we love New York, we love the Yankees. The Diamondbacks players during that World Series talking about how they felt like the spoilers. The Yankees, who have always been the hated franchise, suddenly had people all across America really rooting for them and hoping for them, because again, they’re really rooting for New York, and that’s the way it’s going to be for the Red Sox this year.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page. For more Red Sox coverage, go to weei.com/redsox.

On the Sox’ pitchers’ start: “When you can get that kind of rebound with the pitching staff, the great work that Jon Lester‘s doing and [Clay] Buchholz ‘€¦ The Orioles’ players, to hear from those guys about how good Buchholz is — I had several of those hitters say to me, he’s completely different. They couldn’t believe how good he was, not that he wasn’t a good pitcher before, but the way that he attacked hitters, they were incredibly impressed. Buck Showalter was raising his eyebrows, looking at me and talking about, wow, Buchholz. And the fact that they’re striking out more than a batter per inning early in the year, that’s a big factor.

“There’s a lot of reason to think that as the season goes along, this team could get better. Whether it’s Jackie Bradley settling in or David Ortiz coming back, one question they might have is whether or not they could sustain some starting pitching injuries, but I think as the season goes along, they have enough in the farm system that they could fill in those gaps and be in a position to make trades.

“We went into spring saying that no team looks capable of running away in that division, and I still say that ‘€¦ but the Red Sox are starting to look like that 93-, 95-win team that could distance itself.”

On Buchholz’ specific improvements: “The thing I was hearing from the Orioles was [that his pitches are] down. Hard down. There’s similar things said about Max Scherzer of the Tigers, where it’s just looked at as a difficult at-bat because you don’t feel like you’ve got anything, really, to swing at. Everything seems like it’s almost, just out of reach and it’s hard. That’s why he’s gone from being a good pitcher to maybe being up to the next tier of guys.”

On teams that might trade for David Price: “It is a guess, but ‘€¦ how many teams can pay David Price? The Cubs certainly can. The Red Sox can if they choose to do that. And then the second thing is, who’s got the prospects to get a deal done? And the Red Sox do. And I can tell you that while Tampa Bay would probably not be thrilled about the idea of delivering David Price to a division rival, their big thing is to get return value. And if the Red Sox had the best offer on the table for David Price, the Rays wouldn’t say no because they would have to face him.

“If you’re the Red Sox, the big thing going forward is going to be having access to that high-end starting pitching talent, and we know that’s something they would be focused on, and that’s why I put them on that list. I still think the Cubs to me would be the most likely team to get him, and with the Cardinals being the team, that if they ever stuck out their elbows, because the farm situation is so deep, they could blow everybody out of the water in a bidding situation.”

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