The insignias honoring Newtown, a black ribbon with the town's crest, were painted into the grass on the field at Yankee Stadium, and a number of Red Sox players snapped photos.
"What we do is provide a distraction, but that's temporary," said Red Sox pitcher Craig Breslow, who is from Trumbull. "What we're going to do today is temporary. People have to understand that these lives have been changed by a tragedy of horrific proportions."
The killing of 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Dec. 14, has drawn a strong response from professional athletes, many of whom are young parents themselves. Many area pro and college teams have visited Newtown, or invited affected families to games.
On Monday, the great sports rivalry that tugs at both ends of Connecticut — the century-old Red Sox-Yankees rivalry — tried to make its contribution to the difficult healing process. The teams jointly invited first responders to the Opening Day game at Yankee Stadium, providing about 120 tickets for Newtown police, fire and EMT personnel.
There was a moment of silence before the game, as victims' names scrolled on the giant video board, and Newtown's color guard presented its flags. The Yankees, according to spokesman Jason Zillo, "chose to mention everyone who was killed," including Nancy Lanza, mother of the shooter, in the scrolling names.
The Red Sox and Yankees dedicated the game, which the Red Sox won 8-2 before a non-sellout announced crowd of 49,514, to the memory of the victims. The Yankees and Sox wore commemorative patches, miniatures of the symbols on the field, on their uniforms.
"I'll be thinking about the children [during the ceremony]," said detective Jason Frank, a 17-year veteran of the Newtown Police Department. "The families, the victims. I'm sure I'll be crying. To this day, it's still heart wrenching."
Frank and Det. Dan McAnaspie, a 10-year veteran, represented the first responders in a pregame press conference, following Yankees great Mariano Rivera into the interview room.
"We can't do much, we can't change what happened," Rivera said. "I wish we could. Hopefully, we can give them a good moment. Hopefully, we can take the tragedy from their minds for a little bit."
That's all that can be done and, McAnaspie said, it does help.
"I think it profoundly helps," he said. "I can see it on the children's faces, when athletes come to visit. And I see it on the parents' faces, when they see their kids are happy, smiling."
Survivors and first responders are still coming to terms with what they saw. McAnaspie said 15 to 17 officers have sought counseling, one officer has been out since the day of the shootings, and several have been out of work, returned, and taken leave again.
"Some officers felt the need to get back to work," McAnaspie said, "and found they came back too early. We just check in on each other a lot, ask if you're all right, talk. What I've heard and seen around town, that's what teachers are doing, too. Just checking on each other."
"I've found the last few months I have spent more time with individual guys than I ever had before," Frank said. "Just the need for listening, laughing — crying, still."
Both detectives were emotional at times as they talked about the tragedy and their community, and found some questions too painful to answer.
"Stuff like this, it takes your mind off the day-to-day activity in town, and the dealings with the tragedy," McAnaspie said.
Said Frank: "it just shows you there is life outside of work."
The Yankees contacted the United Way of Western Connecticut soon after Dec. 14, said the organization's director, Patrick Kinney, and began making plans. The franchise donated $100,000 to help support services for those affected by the shooting. Families in town agreed they did not want to disrupt the school schedule to bring children to Opening Day, but after school is out, on July 7, families from Newtown will return to Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have provided 3,000 tickets for the night game against Baltimore.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi embraced this chance to honor first responders.
"I think it's important to say thank you," Girardi said. "The town of Newtown went through so much ... and you think about being a responder. Sometimes we don't think about what they go through and how important they are during a situation like that. I think it's nice that we're getting an opportunity to say thank you for all that you do, because they're obviously going to do more as the future goes on."
Breslow and his teammate, Andrew Bailey, gave a clinic for children in Newtown before reporting to spring training in February.
"We have had some horrific shootings in our country," Breslow said, "but this evoked so much emotion, because they were the most innocent of victims."
Jenny Dell, the sideline reporter for Red Sox telecasts on NESN, is from Southbury and was home with her family on the day of the shooting. Her mother and stepmother are teachers in Western Connecticut, and she is a friend of Teddy Varga, who teaches fourth graders at Sandy Hook Elementary.
"The outpouring of support from people all around the world has just been overwhelming," Dell said. "It was a national tragedy, and it happened in our backyard," she said. "First of all, you never think something like this could happen anywhere, you think — 'what kind of monster could do this? — and then you never think it could happen in Newtown, Conn."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times