Standing on the same stage in the park where he has hosted a charity walk-a-thon, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo tearfully addressed a prayer vigil in his hometown of Parkland, Fla., on Thursday night following the tragic shooting at his alma mater, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.Rizzo returned home to
Standing on the same stage in the park where he has hosted a charity walk-a-thon, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo tearfully addressed a prayer vigil in his hometown of Parkland, Fla., on Thursday night following the tragic shooting at his alma mater, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Rizzo returned home to be with his family and the community after Wednesday's tragedy, where a gunman shot and killed 17 people.
"I grew up in Stoneman Douglas," Rizzo said to the crowd. "I played on those fields. I went to those classes. I studied in those classrooms, the same ones we saw in all those videos yesterday for all the wrong reasons."
During his nearly five-minute speech, Rizzo said he was impressed at how the students are coping with the loss of their classmates and how they're taking care of each other. He praised them as well as the teachers, coaches and first responders. Rizzo also made a plea to end gun violence.
"I'm a baseball player, but I'm also an American," Rizzo said. "I'm a Floridian and a Parklander for life. While I don't have all the answers, I know something has to change before this is visited on another community and another community and another community."
The candlelight vigil was held at Pine Trails Park, which is where Rizzo has hosted his walk the past six years.
"I am only who I am because of this community and I want you to know how proud I am to be part of this community," Rizzo said. "I want you to know that you are not alone in your grief. We are all grieving with you. The entire country is grieving with you. Whatever cover I can give, I will give. Whatever support I can offer to our students, teachers, coaches and families and first responders, you'll have it."
The Cubs offered their support to their teammate before he left camp.
"What are the proper words now except that we're there for you, whatever you need let us know, we'll try to help," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of his message to Rizzo.
"The entire nation is feeling the brunt of all this," Maddon said Thursday. "When we heard about this [shooting], you felt awful and that hollow feeling. You just imagine your own kids or your family or anyone you know being involved in that, and it's getting way too familiar."
On Wednesday, Rizzo posted on Twitter: "Parkland and Coral Springs please stay strong! This is out of control and our country is in desperate need for change. I hope in this darkest of times back home this brings everyone together and we can find love. You're all in my prayers"
Rizzo, 28, grew up in Parkland and has maintained close ties with his hometown. He donated $150,000 to the high school to install modern lighting at the baseball field, and in January helped raise more than $100,000 to finish the project.
Over the past six years, he's hosted a "Walk-Off for Cancer" event at Pine Trails Park in Parkland, which this year raised $960,000 for the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation to fund cancer research and provide support to children and their families battling the disease.
At the walk, Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky presented Rizzo with the first Mayor's Medal of Charitable Service, created to honor Parkland residents or those whose deeds have heavily impacted residents.
"It could happen to anyone," said Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr., a Miami native, who played against Parkland while in high school. "Nowadays, you think twice about going somewhere, because things like that can happen at any time. It's really unfortunate. My prayers go out to all the victims and the families affected. Just to experience that, it'll change your life forever."
When the shooting happened, Almora's parents called him immediately.
"They said, 'There's a shooting at the school in Broward [County],' and I said, 'What school is it?' They told me Douglas. I said, 'Oh my God, that's where Riz went,'" Almora said. "I personally don't know anybody there, but it's part of the South Florida family."
Almora, who has a young son, said he can't imagine being a parent of one of the victims.
"There's got to be something done," Almora said. "I don't know what it is -- it's not my place to say, because I have no idea what they have to do. I saw something that there's been 18 [gun-related incidents] in the first two months of the year. That can't happen. I don't care what your beliefs are or what political beliefs you have, that just can't happen. There's a lot of innocent lives taken for no such reason. That doesn't fly with me."
Third baseman Kristopher Bryant was driving from his home in Las Vegas to Phoenix on Wednesday night and sent Rizzo a text, asking what his teammate's plan was for Thursday in camp.
"He said, 'I'm going home,'" Bryant said. "I was completely unaware of where [the shooting] was. I was super sad. I found out today he knew some people [who were killed]. It's a terrible situation, especially when it happened so close to his hometown. It happened in my hometown. It's just a scary, sad situation."
Bryant's sister-in-law and several friends were at the Oct. 1 concert in Las Vegas when a gunman killed 58 people and injured more than 800.
"Oct. 1 in Vegas was a terrible day," Bryant said. "A lot of my friends and family were involved in that. Obviously, you wish those things did not happen but the community coming together after that and me being there this offseason and seeing 'Vegas Strong' everywhere, it's made me so proud to be from Las Vegas.
"I know Anthony will have a big influence in Florida. I can't imagine what some of those people are going through."
This offseason, Bryant heard more details about what happened to friends at the Las Vegas concert.
"I heard stories of them running over people trying to get out in any way they can and jumping in anybody's car and knocking on any hotel room door," Bryant said. "Just to hear those stories, I could not imagine being in that situation. I just couldn't imagine being there [in Parkland] yesterday. Just hearing that terrible news, especially at a school. You're supposed to feel safe there. It's a crazy world we're living in nowadays."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.