ATLANTA -- Somebody had to be the first opponent to play the Red Sox in Boston following Monday's tragedy. That somebody will be the Royals, who open a weekend series at Fenway Park on Friday night.
The environment is uncharted territory for pretty much everybody, but being that opponent is a responsibility the team is taking very seriously and is something it sees as an opportunity to promote healing in a way that is unique to baseball.
Royals manager Ned Yost actually has an idea of the range of emotion that will be felt in Fenway and all around Boston this weekend, as he was on the Braves' coaching staff when Atlanta was the New York Mets' first opponent following 9/11. He knows how baseball can play a part in the healing process.
"It sounds stupid, because you don't really have much of an impact, but you just go and be with the city," said Yost. "Baseball promotes healing for everybody. Don't ask me how. When we were here in Atlanta at the end of the year, we'd get letters from families that their mom or their dad or their brother or their sister stayed alive four extra days to watch us play. They fought. That's all they were living for. It just makes you feel better if you can go to a baseball game. It's America's pastime, and it just helps heal. So I'm glad that we've got the opportunity to go in there and help some in that process."
"You saw what happened with 9/11. Baseball kind of brought everybody together," said pitcher Tim Collins, who grew up in nearby Worcester, Mass., and will have family and friends in the stands this weekend. "This is kind of the same thing. When there's a tragedy, when something like this happens, you're able to take people's minds off what happened for just a few hours. It really helps. Obviously, it won't be forgotten, but it will ease people's minds a little bit for just a short time."
Catcher George Kottaras has an emotional tie to the Red Sox, as he made his Major League debut with them on Sept. 13, 2008. While he knows the Red Sox will be the sentimental favorite, he feels there really will be no winners or losers on Friday -- even though the Royals will be out to win the game.
"It's definitely one of those things where we're trying to get together for Major League Baseball, then the city of Boston and people around the world," Kottaras said. "We all have heavy hearts. It's special for me in the sense that it's where I made my debut. It's kind of where things started for me, so there's definitely a little sense of that, but it's tough on everybody."
Win or lose this weekend, the Royals are proud to play a part in helping restore normality to Boston.
"Obviously we're not going to try to lose Friday night, but at the same time, I think just playing baseball sometimes takes people's minds off it," said right fielder Jeff Francoeur. "Obviously, it's not a big deal compared to what those people and families are going through, but hopefully it will give a little bit of normalcy to them."
"What happened is just sad, and I'm at a loss for words, but the city is unbelievable. Such a strong group of people," said third baseman Mike Moustakas. "It really shows you what it is to be an American, the way everybody's rallied around them. It's going to be a lot of fun to go into that city and play in that town when it means more than just playing baseball. It's going to be nice to go into a town and be able to help people out."
Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.