Thursday April 25, 2013

WESTMINSTER -- Liam Mulholland and the Boston Red Sox have something in common, besides a love for baseball.

Both the 11-year-old Liam and the seven-time World Series champion Sox have proven themselves to be resilient in great times of crisis.

While the Sox and the people of Boston continue to struggle through recent events, Mulholland, a Westminster resident, had already survived a storm of his own.

In 2011, after Tropical Storm Irene had ripped through the state and waters began to recede, Liam decided to document what had happened in his community. He ventured out to the banks of the Saxtons River and snapped a photo of the remains of four houses that were swept downstream, and another of a torn American flag draped across a fallen tree.

Liam’s photograph, which he entitled "Endurance", became an iconic "Vermont Strong" symbol for many, and his work would eventually adorn the walls of government and municipal offices across the state.

"The photo took on a life of its own," said Liam’s father, David Mulholland.

Liam’s photo is now hanging somewhere in the Red Sox main offices, as the city deals with its own tragedy and fights to stay "Boston Strong."

Liam, a Westminster Center School fifth grader, and a group of other lucky Red Sox Kid Nation members were randomly selected to attend Vermont Day at Fenway Park, held Sunday.

It was here that Liam, honorary bat boy at Sunday’s game, met with Dr. Charles Steinberg, senior advisor to Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino. Steinberg organizes the team’s major events, like Fenway Park’s 100th anniversay celebration. On Vermont Day, he received a framed copy of "Endurance" from Liam, as a gift of solidarity.

"The Sox just called out of the blue," said David. "Our plans were tentative because of the events that were taking place, and we didn’t know for sure there would even be a game."

Sunday’s contest was supposed to be held Friday, but was rescheduled after the city was locked down following the bombings at the Boston Marathon.

Liam was joined Sunday by fellow Vermonters Evelyn Woliver of Brattleboro, Vernon Cub Scouts Pack 412, Cayley North of Ira, Henry Burke of Cabot, and Olivia Gawet of West Rutland. Other Green Mountain Staters included Gov. Peter Shumlin, and Miss Vermont Sarah Westbrook.

When Liam and his dad showed up early at Fenway, there was still a heavy police presence. Once inside, he and the rest of the Kid Nation winners toured the Sox dugout, and watched as the team began batting practice.

During the team’s warmup, Boston’s David Ortiz broke from the group during stretches to meet with Liam.

"It was a good day," said Liam on Wednesday, sporting a cap signed by Rico Petrocelli, and a new Sox jacket. "It was awesome! Vermont was pretty well represented Sunday."

Gawet sang the "The Star-Spangled Banner". Then Liam and Cayley took center stage behind home plate to start the game with a unisoned "Play ball!" to the delight of thousands in attendance.

During the game, Woliver announced Jonny Gomes name over the loudspeaker before he went to bat. "Evelyn thought it was an amazing experience," said Renee Woliver, Evelyn’s mom. "We wanted to get there early to check everything out."

A Royals pitching coach tossed Evelyn a ball she would go home with, and she met with Clay Buchholz and got his autograph. "Everybody was wonderful to us, and we weren’t even sure if we would be able to go," said Renee.

Cayley, honorary bat girl, had a very good time, according to her father Russ North. "She wasn’t aware of the events that had happened, and we didn’t go over it too much with her, because I wanted it to be a big day for her with no distractions," he said. "Things had settled down by then."

Liam’s dad said the lines of communication will remain open with the Sox.

When Steinberg met Liam, he asked him what school Liam went to. Liam said he plans on inviting Steinberg, this time, to Vermont, sometime in the future.

"The club went out of their way to make this a special day for everyone," said David. "They made Liam feel like he was part of the team. I can’t imagine anyone being more complimentary."

Liam sat with family and friends Sunday, enjoying the game from the grandstands.

While Boston took a loss in their "Strong" return, the Vermont Day fans reveled the experience of being a part of one of the more memorable weekends ever held in Fenway Park’s history.

David Aquino can be reached at daquino@reformer.com, or by calling 802-254-2311, ext. 164.