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Wainwright offers support after school shooting

Lifelong Cardinals fan one of two killed in Western Kentucky
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- One-hundred and ninety-five miles separate the two fields, one nestled in the Western Kentucky town of Benton, the other an unofficial epicenter of St. Louis. There were also few places that Preston Cope cherished more.

Those trips to Busch Stadium, which can pack in more than 10 times Benton's population, offered Preston the chance to watch his heroes. They also spurred a young boy's love of baseball, a sport he went on to play at Marshall County High School.

ST. LOUIS -- One-hundred and ninety-five miles separate the two fields, one nestled in the Western Kentucky town of Benton, the other an unofficial epicenter of St. Louis. There were also few places that Preston Cope cherished more.

Those trips to Busch Stadium, which can pack in more than 10 times Benton's population, offered Preston the chance to watch his heroes. They also spurred a young boy's love of baseball, a sport he went on to play at Marshall County High School.

The two intersected last year when the Marshall County team traveled to St. Louis to watch the Cardinals and then participate in their own exhibition game on the same field shortly after. It was, cliched as it may be, a dream come true for the then-lanky freshman who walked onto the Busch Stadium field in his bright orange high school uniform that day.

"He was so thrilled and excited," his father recalled in a letter given to MLB.com. "It was a very special moment for him -- one he would never forget."

It's also one Preston won't get the opportunity to relive.

The school day had just begun for students at Marshall County on Jan. 23 when the gunshots began. By the time they stopped, 16 students had been shot. A 15-year-old girl, Bailey Holt, died at school that morning. Preston, also 15, died en route to the hospital.

His parents, Brian and Teresa, reached him just in time to say goodbye.

In the days that followed, folks who had never heard of Benton began to learn about the lives of those two teenagers. As friends and family shared stories about Preston, so often they'd come back to the same theme, baseball, and his first love, the Cardinals.

Those stories eventually reached Adam Wainwright, who instantly felt moved to help with the healing. And with the assistance of his foundation, Big League Impact, plans are already being made for Wainwright to host victims of the shooting and their families at Busch Stadium this summer.

It was a gesture, said Big League Impact director Raymond St. Martin, that Wainwright proposed on his own.

That next trip up to Busch Stadium will no doubt be bittersweet for the Cope family, especially Brian, who was largely responsible for fostering his son's love of the Cardinals. Having himself been raised a Cardinal fan, Brian Cope felt that "passing that down to my sons was important."

Preston's first visit to Busch Stadium was with his father; they went home with a Scott Rolen autograph. And there were many trips up on Sundays so that Preston and his younger brother, Maddox, could run the bases after the game.

The Copes were at Busch Stadium for Game 3 of the 2006 World Series and just down the street from it to watch the 2011 World Series championship parade. Last year, Preston traveled to St. Louis to attend Winter Warm-Up.

No experience, however, matched the one when, for those few fleeting hours, Preston and his teammates were able to call the field of their heroes their own.

Playing at Busch Stadium, as Brian described it now, was "the highlight that made his young life."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

St. Louis Cardinals, Adam Wainwright