Opening Day takes on special meaning for Rizzo

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School alumnus goes deep

March 29th, 2018

MIAMI -- took advantage of the Cubs opening the regular season near his hometown of Parkland, Fla., by going to watch his high school baseball team play. He made the trip even more special on Thursday, hitting a home run on Opening Day, which gave him a chance to pay homage to the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Rizzo launched a solo homer with two outs in the second inning of the Cubs' 8-4 win over the Marlins. As he crossed the plate, he touched the patch on his uniform that both teams are wearing to honor the victims.

"I've hit a lot of home runs," Rizzo said. "That was probably the most out-of-body experience I've had hitting a home run in my life. It just felt really good. My emotions on Opening Day are usually pretty high, but with all this, you can't really put it into words.

"I put my hand on the Stoneman Douglas patch and looked up to those kids up there, the adults who have lost their lives," he said. "It was a special moment for me personally."

On Feb. 14, 17 people were killed in a shooting at his high school, and the Cubs and Marlins will honor the victims on Friday with pregame ceremonies. Rizzo and his foundation will present a check from money raised in an auction to the National Compassion Fund -- Parkland. The fund handled money for victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016 and the Las Vegas shooting last October.

Four families connected to the shooting will throw out a first pitch, and Rizzo also invited the MSD baseball team.

On Thursday, Cubs players wore maroon-colored T-shirts with the MSD logo on the back and "#MSDStrong" on the front. Manager Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation arranged to get the shirts for the Cubs' players and staff.

The Cubs and Marlins also will wear patches during the series with the school's initials and colors plus 17 stars, one for each of the victims.

Watching the high school game was memorable for Rizzo.

"They put on a show and won 15-0 and motivated me to come out today and score some runs," said Rizzo, who belted his first homer of the season in the second inning.

Rizzo has watched students from Stoneman Douglas speak out about gun violence and heard their speeches at rallies.

"I think it's amazing," Rizzo said. "These kids are standing up for what they believe in. They're motivating everyone to go out there and register to vote. That's as powerful as they can make their voice heard. They're holding the throttle down on these politicians and holding them accountable for what they believe in. It's unbelievable that an entire nation is rallying around Stoneman Douglas High School."

Rizzo did make an emotional speech at the prayer vigil after the shooting occurred, but he said the community is trying to get back to normal.

"The kids are doing great," Rizzo said. "From the outside looking in, I related it to when I had cancer. People were, 'Oh, can I talk to him? Is he contagious? Can we touch him? Can he go outside?' Those kids [at MSD] are doing great. From what I've seen being around them, the students back in school are doing great, the teachers are doing great. I know a lot of the teachers and I've been talking to them. It's normal -- you have to be normal and try to make it as normal as you can."

That doesn't mean Rizzo or anyone from Parkland will forget what happened, or forget about the victims.

"It's where I'm from, it's my city, it's where I was raised, where I grew up," Rizzo said. "I went to that school. Every day, you think about them, every day you feel for what happened."