What to Know
- From Florida to Arizona, Major League Baseball teams are honoring the victims of last week’s mass shooting inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
- The Marlins tried to bring some joy to the baseball and softball teams from the school, inviting both teams to Jupiter for a meet and greet.
From Florida to Arizona, Major League Baseball teams are honoring the victims of last week’s mass shooting inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during their spring training openers Friday.
Each team is wearing caps with the school’s logo and the phrase Douglas strong, but the Miami Marlins went beyond that to show their support for their local school still recovering.
The Marlins tried to bring some joy to the baseball and softball teams from the school that have endured too many moments of sorrow recently, inviting both teams to Jupiter for a special meet and greet with the team, owner Derek Jeter and a chance to catch the opener against the St. Louis Cardinals.
"When I was in New York playing after September 11, obviously you'll never forget what happened, but at least for those three hours we gave people something they could cheer for," Jeter said. "We appreciated that and we sort of took that and ran with it as an organization. I think a lot of times professional sports teams, sports teams in general, can help distract people, so to speak."
Before the first pitch, the Marlins and Cardinals observed 17 seconds of silence in memory of the victims. Douglas players and coaches watched from seats behind home plate.
"Just being here today takes our minds off things we’ve gone through - plenty of funerals throughout this week,” said Douglas High baseball player Connor Brian, who had the name of all 17 victims written on the bill of his hat.. “It’s been a sad week.”
While the Marlins’ support was on display by wearing “MSD Strong” shirts and Stoneman Douglas caps, it was their interactions and shared moments between the ballplayers that will leave a lasting impression.
But the biggest take away for the high school players may not have been the tips, the handshakes, the pictures, the bats given out or the words of encouragement: it was the message from a day that will always be considered a grand slam.
“We’re all one big family it’s amazing,” said player Ricky Shimko. “We’re not in it alone. Every team in the MLB is wearing our hats and Douglas Strong shirts, which really helps us feel better."
Meanwhile, Stoneman Douglas High baseball coach Todd Fitz-Gerald and his sons were guests of the Houston Astros for their spring opener against the Washington Nationals.
Fitz-Gerald said it was a "relief" to get back to the sport he loves and to stop thinking, at least for a moment, about the Valentine's Day mass shooting that left 17 people dead and more than a dozen others wounded.
"You can't put it into words," he said, fighting back tears. "I think it's great what Major League Baseball is doing to show support for our community and our school. It's been a rough week and just being out here ... (gives me) a sense of freedom."
Teams had the option of wearing the caps, which are black with "SD" in block letters, during the game or only during warmups. Both the Astros and Nationals wore them during Friday's game.
MLB ordered more than 2,500 of the caps from New Era, league spokesman Steven Arrocho said. Many teams will have players sign them, and they will be auctioned to benefit the victims and families affected by the shooting.
Stoneman Douglas, which won a state title in 2016, counts several MLB players as alumni, led by Cubs star Anthony Rizzo. He left camp in Arizona to return to Parkland the day after the shooting, gave an emotional speech at a candlelight vigil and later visited victims in the hospital. He wasn't in the lineup for Chicago's game on Friday, but wore the hat bearing his high school's initials while working out.
Both Fitz-Gerald and his son Hunter, a junior, were on campus during the shooting, in which 14 students and three teachers were slain. The elder Fitz-Gerald wore a crisp white shirt that was adorned with the words "Douglas Strong" as he chatted with Astros manager A.J. Hinch and several other players and coaches during morning workouts. He and Hunter accompanied Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow on the field before the game to hoist the World Series trophy.