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Astros welcome Douglas HS coach, sons

MLB.com @brianmctaggart

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- There may never be a return to true normalcy for the students and faculty at Stoneman Douglas High School. Not after the tragedy that struck the school in nearby Parkland, Fla., last week, when 17 people were killed in a horrific shooting.

Todd Fitz-Gerald, the head baseball coach at Stoneman Douglas -- whose son, Hunter, is a junior at the school -- has kept his team close in the days following the shooting, meeting with them nearly every day and even resuming practices. There have been hugs and tears. While most of the team attended Marlins spring camp in Jupiter, Fla., on Friday, Fitz-Gerald, his two sons and his assistant coach paid a visit to Astros camp.

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- There may never be a return to true normalcy for the students and faculty at Stoneman Douglas High School. Not after the tragedy that struck the school in nearby Parkland, Fla., last week, when 17 people were killed in a horrific shooting.

Todd Fitz-Gerald, the head baseball coach at Stoneman Douglas -- whose son, Hunter, is a junior at the school -- has kept his team close in the days following the shooting, meeting with them nearly every day and even resuming practices. There have been hugs and tears. While most of the team attended Marlins spring camp in Jupiter, Fla., on Friday, Fitz-Gerald, his two sons and his assistant coach paid a visit to Astros camp.

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In a pregame ceremony to mark the Astros' championship, general manager Jeff Luhnow raised the World Series trophy into the air on the field while flanked by Fitz-Gerald and his son. The Astros joined the rest of Major League Baseball in wearing Stoneman Douglas baseball caps for Friday's Grapefruit League action.

"To be out here and be able to enjoy a day with these guys, I couldn't be more thankful," Fitz-Gerald said. "This is what we do. I'm a baseball coach true and blue and we're a baseball family and that's how we do it."

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The group from Stoneman Douglas spent much of the morning on a back field at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches watching live batting practice, where Astros manager A.J. Hinch talked baseball with Fitz-Gerald. Astros players, including Evan Gattis, Carlos Correa, George Springer and Brian McCann, came over to talk baseball and give support.

"I'm sure there's a lot of anger and a lot of hurt," Gattis said. "It's a sore subject. ... I'm not a parent yet, but I understand the anger surrounding it and being scared and having a kid going to school or being in the building or in the vicinity."

Video: WSH@HOU: Astros discuss wearing Stoneman Douglas hats

Hunter Fitz-Gerald, a junior who plays third base on the baseball team, was in the building when a gunman opened fire, but he wasn't injured. For the team, the following days have been about leaning on each other and drawing support from wherever they can.

"We've been telling ourselves we need to stay strong for each other," Hunter said. "And baseball gets our mind off everything, and we all love each other want to be there for each other."

Coach Fitz-Gerald, who's in his seventh season as head coach, spoke of the resiliency of the student body, which has been a champion for change in the days following the shooting. He said the school is refusing to let one individual define who it is.

"That's the bottom line," he said. "There are two ways: You can put your head between your legs and cower down or you can be strong, and our responsibility is to be strong for our community. Our baseball program has a long tradition of success and we owe it to the students, we owe to the community to represent them and give them something to be proud of."

For as much as the trip to Spring Training was about a chance put the events of last week out of mind, Fitz-Gerald soaked up some useful baseball information, too. After all, the Eagles begin their season March 2.

"It's not every day you get an opportunity to just be around the big leaguers," he said. "We're out here talking baseball and trying to pick up some things I can bring back to our guys, and talking to Springer and Jose Altuve and how he plays the bag on the double play, and talking to A.J. about some managing stuff -- me being the manager -- just trying to get some ideas about some things.

"I know it's total different levels in high school and the Major Leagues, but the fundamentals of the game don't change. You catch it, you throw it, you hit it."

The game goes on.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

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