Rookie's dad, fighting ALS, to attend opener

Hilliard grateful Rockies, Rangers came together for special situation

July 22nd, 2020

Baseball is a family sport at its best, and not even COVID-19 will be able to keep Rockies outfielder from his loved ones.

Upon his debut in the Majors last season, Hilliard began using his platform to raise money for research into ALS, the neuromuscular disease that has attacked his father, Jim Hilliard, but hasn’t beaten his spirit.

Thanks to the assistance of the Rangers, Hilliard said that Jim Hilliard, a retired orthopedic and sports medicine surgeon, and his mother, Tamara Hext Hilliard, will be able to safely attend the season opener Friday at Globe Life Field in Arlington, after taking in the exhibition games on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said, "It just felt like it was the right thing to do. There's a lot of craziness in the world right now. When you've got a chance to help someone out, we want to do that. We'll take the necessary precautions."

Games are being played without crowds because of the pandemic that has delayed the season. Tuesday marked the first of two Rockies exhibition games against the Rangers, before the season begins with Friday’s opener of a three-game set. But, thanks to some cooperation between the teams and the fact that his parents have tested free of the coronavirus, the Hilliards will get to watch their son’s first Major League opener.

Hilliard also started Tuesday’s exhibition in left field in what looks to be an Opening Day-type lineup. There may be a roof on the Rangers' new park, but Hilliard is over the moon that his dad and mom can be there.

“He’s doing good. … He’s still the same guy, great sense of humor, very positive. He’s keeping the family spirits up and still loves to see his family and his friends,” Hilliard said. “The conversation I had with him and my mom was just kind of, ‘Can’t believe that it’s going to happen. They’re really going to let us do this.’

“It was a conversation of cries and just relief. We haven’t seen each other for a while. We’re all really happy to reunite.”

Hilliard, 26, grew up in nearby Mansfield, and his “first real job” was at the previous stadium in Arlington, throwing Wiffle balls to plastic-bat-wielding children in a play area beyond the center-field wall.

It’s a long way from there to earning a job on the field against the Rockies, but Hilliard has gone about it the right way.

Hilliard broke in last year with a .273 batting average, seven home runs and 14 RBIs in 27 games. In preparation for his official rookie season, Hilliard put up less-than-scintillating overall numbers in Spring Training (.143 with 12 strikeouts in 34 at-bats), but manager Bud Black and hitting coach Dave Magadan saw him developing a controlled swing that would serve him well.

During the shutdown, Hilliard kept working in Scottsdale, Ariz., until it became too hot, then he moved his training to the Denver area. Hilliard has produced extra-base hits and an opposite-way home run and has displayed his speed during Summer Camp.

Also, Hilliard’s fast development defensively allowed Black to view him and Raimel Tapia (the designated hitter on Tuesday) as interchangeable between the field and DH.

Having his parents at the opener is an added reward.

“It’s part of what makes this game great, for his family to be a part of their son coming back home and playing against the team he grew up rooting for,” Black said. “We all know his dad’s situation. It’s rough. But it’s a gentle moment. It’s really cool.”

Oberg still questionable
Black said Rockies decided against using right-hander , who didn’t pitch in Summer Camp until Sunday because of back tightness, on Tuesday, and the club will discuss whether he will pitch Wednesday. The Opening Day roster is due Thursday at 11 a.m. MT, and Black said the decision "will come down to the wire.”

Satellite orbit
Because of coronavirus concerns and after discussions with New Mexico’s government, the Rockies have decided against using the home of their Triple-A affiliate in Albuquerque for the “satellite camp” -- players in the player pool but not on the Major League roster or the three-man taxi squad. Instead, the camp will have activity at Coors Field and Metropolitan State University of Denver, and use the Pepsi Center as a clubhouse facility.

The Pepsi Center is available because the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche are away participating in “bubble” events to complete their seasons and playoffs.

Senzatela full-go
Black said the plan is for right-hander , expected to be the fourth starter, to start Wednesday’s exhibition and go beyond the approximately 64 pitches that other starters threw in their last games in Summer Camp. If all goes well, Senzatela lines up as the starter at Oakland next Tuesday.