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Stoneman Douglas honored as spring games begin today

Special caps worn, signed, and auctioned, with proceeds going to victims fund
MLB.com @castrovince

Players are taking the field in a game designed to be diversion. In most years, the exhibition openers at Major League Baseball's Spring Training camps would qualify as just that -- a welcomed respite from the troubles of the world. But not in this country, and not in this moment of mourning.

What happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School this month has left many a soul shaken and searching. To pretend something as silly as a sport should go on without acknowledgment of what's on our minds and in our hearts would be a fool's errand.

Players are taking the field in a game designed to be diversion. In most years, the exhibition openers at Major League Baseball's Spring Training camps would qualify as just that -- a welcomed respite from the troubles of the world. But not in this country, and not in this moment of mourning.

What happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School this month has left many a soul shaken and searching. To pretend something as silly as a sport should go on without acknowledgment of what's on our minds and in our hearts would be a fool's errand.

So every MLB team with a spring tilt on the Grapefruit and Cactus League schedules Friday is wearing black caps with the maroon "SD" of Stoneman Douglas, where 17 people -- including 14 students and three staff members -- were killed in a mass shooting on Feb. 14. They'll honor the victims and support the survivors via action and auction, a small but necessary salute at a time when it's important to remember the good we can accomplish together.

Tweet from @TMacBrighton: Today we will wear these STONEMAN DOUGLAS caps to honor the victims of last week's tragedy. Please keep an eye out for the auction which will benefit victims and families. #ParklandStrong pic.twitter.com/yMHUJGF0p3

Much of the baseball world was watching when Stoneman Douglas alum and Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo returned to the school where the baseball field bears his name and gave an emotional address in which he reminded the people of Parkland, Fla., that "the entire country is grieving with you."

Now, Rizzo's peers will provide a visual reminder of the same.

"I think it's awesome, I think it's cool," Rizzo said. "Obviously, it's deeper ties for me than the rest of the league, but it's really neat that Major League Baseball is recognizing what happened in the country."

Video: Rizzo speaks at vigil for Parkland victims

It began with the Marlins, who both reside and train less than an hour from Parkland, requesting permission from the Commissioner's Office to wear the caps. The idea soon spread -- as good ideas tend to do -- to all 30 clubs. So every active team and umpiring crew is wearing the caps pregame Friday (the Royals and Rangers are off, so will instead don the hats on Saturday) and have the option of wearing them in-game. The caps will then be signed and auctioned off to raise money for the Broward Education Foundation, which will benefit the official Stoneman Douglas Victims' Fund.

Rockies prospect Colton Welker, another Stoneman Douglas alum, is still in shock of the events that transpired. He's happy to help any way he can, even from 2,000 miles away.

Video: Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS alum Welker on tragedy

"I was taken aback when I heard about [the cap initiative]," said Welker, who will be in uniform tomorrow. "It's going to be beautiful for the people to think of [the school] in a positive way instead of dwelling on the past."

Rizzo, whose Cubs play a 3:05 p.m. ET game at Maryvale Baseball Park against the Brewers, will be the most significant participant in the honor.

Video: Martinez talks moment of silence for Parkland victims

And the emotion will extend to Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., a mere 50 miles from the school. For their 1:05 p.m. ET game, the Marlins and Cardinals will also wear "MSD" patches over their hearts on their jerseys. Marlins outfielder Lewis Brinson, who played at Coral Springs High School -- just five miles from Stoneman Douglas -- will proudly wear the hat and letters of his high school rival.

"I'm honored to wear something like that to represent what happened," Brinson said. "I'm sure my coach and everybody that played with me will be all right for this cause. Obviously, it was a tragic day in Parkland that day. I'd be happy to wear their shirt, whatever we need to do. I'll wear the shirt under the jersey if they'll let us. Just to represent them that day, it will be special."

Mets reliever Anthony Swarzak, who grew up in Broward County, and whose sister and cousins are graduates of Stoneman Douglas, is especially eager to show his support.

"Man, I think that's great," he said. "I think it's going to be a cool thing for the school and for the kids, not just those involved with baseball, just to see that the league is really thinking about them and what they've been through. I hope that they realize that they're not in this alone. That everybody really is reaching out and here for them for any kind of support and anything that they need."

Baseball's show of support may not solve the big-picture issues being discussed in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas shooting, but just because a gesture is small doesn't mean it won't be a step in a positive direction. As we've seen, the school has many students demonstrating incredible poise, strength and unity in the wake of this life-altering experience.

"I think it's definitely important to wear this hat, just to show that we care," Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong said. "We're not living on our pedestals, being professional athletes. We know what's going on in the world."

In the aftermath, many issues will be debated, and baseball may seem insignificant in times like this. But there's no ignoring what happened at Parkland. Not even at the park.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcasts and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.