Back from Parkland vigil, Luzardo sets up fund

A's prospect and Stoneman Douglas grad was slated to visit school before shooting

February 17th, 2018

MESA, Ariz. -- At least three times a week for nearly two months, A's Minor Leaguer Jesus Luzardo returned to his alma mater to go through his offseason throwing routine. Wednesday wasn't supposed to be any different in Parkland, Fla.

Except the pitcher was cautioned against showing up this time. A nightmare was unfolding at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High when the school's baseball coach texted Luzardo:

"There's a shooter."

• Parkland native Luzardo out to help

Luzardo, just 20 and two years removed from his high school graduation, frantically attempted to reach some of the students he had been sharing a field with this winter.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"They were all texting me when it was going on," Luzardo said at the A's Minor League facilities on Saturday. "Some of them were telling me they were in a closet, some of them were saying they were hearing gunshots. It was pretty tough."

By day's end, he would learn that 17 people were killed by the accused gunman, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who attended school with Luzardo. Dozens more were injured.

"His face seemed really familiar," Luzardo said. "I don't think I had him in a class, but I feel like I saw him somewhere. I know friends who told me that they had him in classes, and I know someone who sat next to him in class. I knew who he was."

Chaos has turned to stillness in this South Florida pocket, disbelief and anger -- but also action to prevent this from happening elsewhere -- engulfing a close-knit community.

"Parkland is a tiny town," said Luzardo, who has called it home since age 2. "Everyone basically knows each other, so if you go to Douglas, you basically know everyone who went there. The majority of the people there were just kind of in shock when it happened. It kind of felt like an emptiness, you could say. The last two days I was there, it just wasn't the same. You could go to the gym, you could go to eat, and just everyone was down. It was just a weird feeling."

• Stoneman Douglas alum Rizzo attends vigil

Luzardo attended a vigil on Thursday and decided to go forward with plans to fly to Phoenix on Friday in preparation for the A's mini-camp that opened Saturday. A's Minor League pitching coordinator Gil Patterson told Luzardo to take his time, "but I told him, 'It's OK, I think I'm ready,'" said Luzardo, who was traded to the A's from the Nationals in the and deal last year. "I was prepared to come out here and do what I need to do.

"Even though my family wasn't directly involved, we knew people who got hurt, and it was just tough in general. But I had a lot of support from my family and friends telling me, 'You gotta go do your thing.' But I'm excited for what's to come and definitely represent for Stoneman Douglas and do what I can for the community."

Already, Luzardo has established a memorial fund for the school's athletic director, Chris Hixon, who was killed in the shooting, leaving two sons.

"Every time I would see him, he always had a smile on his face," Luzardo said. "He came to a lot of our baseball banquets. He was just a really nice guy. He was always at our baseball games supporting us, helping us out if we were ever in trouble. If you were ever in need, you would just go to him and he would be a nice guy about it."