Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Atlanta Falcons and former Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan signs autographs for fans attending "Boston Strong Night" prior to the Gwinnett Braves and the Pawtucket Red Sox game at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville Tuesday. For every ticket sold $5 will be donated to OneFundBoston.org, benefitting the victims of the Boston Marathon tragedy.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- It didn't matter if they played for the Celtics, Red Sox, Patriots or Boston College: four prominent former Boston sports stars came together Tuesday night for a common cause of support.
Matt Ryan, Rodney Harrison, Jason Varitek and Dee Brown threw out ceremonial first pitches before the Gwinnett Braves game at Coolray Field in support of OneFundBoston.org, a foundation that benefits victims of last month's Boston Marathon bombings.
"That's what we do, we stick together, Boston strong," said Brown, who lives in Gwinnett. "Once you're a Celtic or Red Sox or Patriot, you're always that."
The G-Braves coordinated the event to be when Pawtucket, the Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, was in town. For every ticket purchased online using the promo code "Strong," the organization donated $5 to the fund.
Players from both teams wore 1946 Boston Braves hats, and the coaching boxes and home plate area were painted blue and yellow, the colors of the Boston Marathon. Throughout the game, songs from Boston-based bands or with lyrics about the city, such as the Dropkick Murphys and the Standells, were played over the public address system. In the eighth inning, the crowd sang along to "Sweet Caroline," a Fenway Park tradition.
Gwinnett also held a silent auction to benefit the fund, which featured autographed baseballs by Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox players, and golf outings with Varitek and Harrison and a basketball training session with Brown.
The event came together because G-Braves General Manager North Johnson said, "We collectively agreed that we needed to do something."
The only disappointment, Johnson said, was the event didn't create a rush of ticket sales, and attendance was announced at 4,033.
But it was meaningful enough for Gainesville resident Gary Copeland, a season ticket holder, who arranged his schedule to make sure to be at the ballpark.
"This park has some good community relationship and good community ties," said Copeland, a Braves fan who rooted for the Red Sox when they played in the World Series.
Brown, a former Celtic and NBA slam dunk champion, said when he first heard of the bombings at the Boston Marathon, one of his first thoughts was his brother-in-law, a police officer in Cambridge, Mass.
Brown said his brother-in-law, who has been an officer for 18 years, was nearby when police found the second bombing suspect, and he helped train the MIT officer killed after the bombings.
"It was really close to home," said Brown, whose daughter Lexie is a senior basketball star at North Gwinnett.
Because Varitek splits time between the Atlanta and Boston, he said it was nice that someone had the wherewithal to organize an event to give back. Along with his former Red Sox teammates, Varitek said his wife's family is in the Boston area, so on the day of the bombings, they tried to find as much information as quickly as possible.
The most important message Varitek had was that the incident didn't just happen to Boston.
"This happened to all of us," he said. "It doesn't matter if you lived in the southern tip of Florida. Something that everybody is aware of."
"It's not only here in Atlanta," he said. "I think the outpouring of support for Boston has come from across the country. It's a town that's very tight knit and supportive of each other, but when things like this happen, our country comes together very well."
Some of Ryan's favorite memories of his time at Boston College were the marathon, because it runs through the campus.
"I walked by those places so many times, it's just inconceivable that it could happen," the Atlanta Falcons quarterback said.