SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Players throughout Major League Baseball wore caps with an "SD" logo Friday to honor the 17 victims of the recent mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
For Colorado Rockies minor leaguer Colton Welker, the gesture hit especially close to home.
Welker, a top infield prospect in the Rockies’ system, played for Stoneman Douglas’ state title team in 2016 and was a fourth-round draft pick by Colorado in June of that year. Along with Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo and Oakland Athletics minor league pitcher Jesus Luzardo, he’s one of three alumni of the Parkland high school playing in the Cactus League this spring.
Welker, called upon to pinch-hit by Rockies manager Bud Black in the eighth inning Friday, was robbed of a hit by Arizona’s Rey Fuentes in a line drive to center field. He came on to play third base and flied out to center field again in the 10th inning of the Diamondbacks’ 7-6 victory.
"There were definitely a lot of emotions after the tragedy,” Welker told ESPN after the game. "To come out here and get to strap it on with the big team felt good. The last time I wore this hat I was over there [in Parkland] playing baseball. That’s what got me here, so it meant a lot to me.
"I tried not to make it a big deal of it today. But it was very cool to be out there with these guys and watch them work and watch what the best do every day. It’s just a great experience being around them.”
Welker was friends with Parkland athletic director Chris Hixon and football coach Aaron Feis, both of whom died along with 14 students and a teacher in the Feb. 14 shooting. Feis, who was killed while throwing himself in front of students to protect them, was a security guard at the school and let Welker into the building each day.
As a middle school student in Parkland, Walker rode the bus to school each day with Nikolas Cruz, the gunman who confessed to the killings.
"All my friends are still down there,” Welker said. "My mom still lives down there. She says the town is quiet and it’s still healing. It’s going to take some time after something like that happens. But they’re doing a great job regrouping and staying together and staying strong. They’ll get back to school soon and get athletics going, and that will be good.”
Welker, ranked as the Rockies’ No. 7 prospect by ESPN’s Keith Law, has hit .341 with a .496 slugging percentage in his first two minor league stops with Grand Junction of the Pioneer League and Asheville of the South Atlantic. As he embarks upon his third professional season, his heart and mind are constantly with the people back home in Parkland.
"That’s where I want to raise my kids,” Welker said. "It’s the greatest place on earth. They have great schools all the way from elementary through high school. It’s a beautiful place to grow up. I’m beyond proud to say I’m from there.
"It’s sickening to know that our name is on the map for that, and not for the other great things that we’ve accomplished. But [baseball] is something I can use to help people, and maybe represent the school and lift people up even more.”
The Rockies were among many teams to wear the Stoneman Douglas caps Friday, with several managers taking time to reflect on how baseball can offer a diversion.
"Anytime people are hurting, and we know the community is hurting right now, baseball can sometimes play a part with the healing process," New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "And so to honor them and try and have a little bit of thoughts and prayers, and our thoughts are with people who are hurting, it’s something small that it was cool to be a part of."
More than 2,500 of the Stoneman Douglas caps were ordered from New Era, MLB spokesman Steven Arrocho said, with many of them expected to be signed and auctioned off to benefit those affected by the shooting.
Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Friday’s gesture "puts everything in perspective."
"Wearing the hats today, I think that means a lot to all of us. It puts everything in perspective," Cora said. "Something that obviously, it gets your attention. My daughter turns 15 in a few weeks, and I got an email the other day from her school talking about them having a drill. That’s not normal."