Patriots Day has always been the best day of the year in Boston, or close to it. That's the first thing to know about it. It's a large party, a loud party, a party that stretched for miles and drew in thousands of happy souls.

It began early in the day, young and old lining up along the hallowed Boston Marathon route to cheer the runners on and to make a day of it. It was a spectacular scene of color and emotion and joy, especially in those final miles as runners climbed Heartbreak Hill and turned onto Beacon Street and lumbered past Fenway Park on their way to Boylston Street.

Runners will tell you the same thing about those final blocks. As exhaustion collided with determination, as their will was tested in a dozen different ways, it was those large crowds, three and four deep in the final mile, that carried them through.

In the afternoon, as the Red Sox played at Fenway Park and as marathoners continued to cross the finish line, it became a celebration of New England, a day of drinking and laughing, a day when every age and nationality seemed to be represented.

Once upon a time, it was a day to gather at the dear, departed Eliot Lounge, to tell stories and watch all the tired, happy people mingling with those who were there to soak up the atmosphere and take it all in.

Let's hope that part of Patriots Day, that absolute joy of a day in one of the most beautiful cities on earth, will never be lost. Rather, let's hope that attitude returns somewhere down the line.

That's not what this Patriots Day is like. There are more runners, 36,000 in all, and there are certainly more spectators. For sure, there'll be more emotion, probably more laughter, certainly louder cheers.

Amid those cheers, though, there'll be defiance. This is Boston's day to stand strong again and to show the world it remains resolute a year after the bombings. Sadly, that's not what Patriots Day was ever about.

It simply was a New England holiday, a day to play hooky or slip away from work, a day to watch some baseball and to let those runners know how much you admire what they've accomplished. It was never supposed to be about restating the things we hold most precious in this country.

This is a baseball holiday, too. Boston is one of those cities where it's baseball season every day of the year, and on this Patriots Day, the Red Sox and Orioles play at a time when only a small fraction of the runners will have crossed the finish line a mile or so away.

The Red Sox paid their respects to the Boston Marathon bombing victims on Sunday with a moving ceremony that included Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick and two Boston mayors, the current officeholder, Martin J. Walsh, and his beloved predecessor, Thomas M. Menino. With the University of Massachusetts-Amherst band playing "Highland Cathedral," first responders, bombing victims and runners walked onto the field from various entrances.

It was touching, and as with so many things the Red Sox do, absolutely perfect. No history of the bombing can be written without the Red Sox. Within hours of the bombing, the entire franchise committed itself to reaching out to the victims, that is, to honor the victims and pay respects to the heroes. Players especially became involved on every level.

From the moment this ownership group -- John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino -- purchased the Red Sox 12 years ago, they promised to fulfill a challenging to-do list.

First, it was about winning. In the last 10 seasons, the Red Sox have won the World Series three times, an incredible accomplishment for a franchise that went 86 years without a championship. Those three trophies are displayed proudly in the team's headquarters on Yawkey Way.

But the new Red Sox bosses promised to be about more than that. They promised to be good citizens of the community, to be engaged in all sorts of charities and to enhance the relationship New England has with its baseball team.

That the Red Sox would have a worst-to-first championship season during a year when so many of their people were deeply involved in helping Boston recover took on a magical quality. When they hoisted that trophy on the infield at Fenway Park -- the first time in 95 years they'd won a World Series clinching game at home -- it seemed almost predestined.

So while today's Boston Marathon and the game at Fenway are about making a statement about this country and our strength, it'll also be about the most basic of Patriots Day pleasures. Play ball.