D-backs honor fallen firefighters before game
Team observes moment of silence and wears No. 19 for victims of wildfire
PHOENIX -- As sports venues often are following tragedies, Chase Field transformed into a ballpark-size homage on Friday to the 19 firefighters who lost their lives Sunday while battling a wildfire near the Northern Arizona town of Yarnell.
With remembrances to the victims spread out across the stadium including a black No. 19 painted behind home plate, fans turned out in droves to sell out Chase Field for the first time since Opening Day.
In a special pregame ceremony, the D-backs and Rockies observed a 19-second moment of silence followed by a photo montage in memory of the lost firefighters and a performance of "Amazing Grace" by the Arizona Fire Service Bagpipe and Drum Band, which included more than 45 firefighters from communities all over the state.
"We do it as a tribute to the families and the people that gave their lives," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "You're always trying to figure out what can you do, so I know the organization is doing all it can. You can't replace the people that you lose, but we want to remember their spirit."
Yarnell is located about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix, and the firefighters that were killed were members of an elite fire suppression unit known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots, which is based in nearby Prescott.
The deaths marked the largest loss of life among firefighting personnel since 340 perished in the World Trade Center during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. It was the largest in a wildfire since 1933, when 29 firefighters lost their lives in Los Angeles.
The D-backs wore their black jerseys Friday, but whereas they used to say "D-backs" across the front, they instead read "Arizona" and had a patch over the heart bearing the No. 19.
The two clubs also donned Prescott Fire Department hats during batting practice to show support. The D-backs are petitioning MLB to allow the club to wear the hats during games this weekend, like the Yankees and Mets did following 9/11.
"It's to honor those guys and their families," Willie Bloomquist said. "We're all in this together and we all feel a part of it. We sympathize with them and we're going to do the best to honor them."
Said Brad Ziegler, "We want them to know we're thinking of them. It's unfortunate we have to do this, but at least this is a way we can show our support because those that were taken were heroes."
In addition to the symbolic tributes, the D-backs also have launched a number of fundraising efforts for the families of the victims. The organization has already matched $100,000 in donations from fans at dbacks.com/19 and pledged on Friday to match an additional $100,000 in contributions.
Beginning Friday through July 14, the club is also auctioning off game-worn and autographed black Arizona tribute jerseys from this weekend and signed nameplates from the D-backs Clubhouse online at dbacks.com/auctions. There will be a 50/50 raffle each game this weekend at Chase Field that will support the families as well.
"Nothing can give back to those families what they've lost, but whatever we can do to help, we're going to try to do," Cliff Pennington said. "This organization is first class when it comes that and it makes me really proud to put on this uniform."