SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies prospect Colton Welker could not have anticipated the shock he would feel when his alma mater, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was thrust into the national spotlight as the site of a tragic mass shooting last week.He saw the athletic director from when he played there,
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies prospect Colton Welker could not have anticipated the shock he would feel when his alma mater, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was thrust into the national spotlight as the site of a tragic mass shooting last week.
He saw the athletic director from when he played there, Chris Hixon, and 18-year-old Meadow Pollack, the little sister of one of his best friends, listed among those who died in the shooting.
"It was definitely tough to hear that news from such a great area and prestigious school," Welker said Thursday at Rockies training camp. "It's a school that has meant so much to me and put me on the map and got me here pretty much. It's tough to see that at a school like that, because [there have been] nothing but good things there."
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Welker also noticed Aaron Feis, one of his former coaches, among the 17 lives lost, and heard how Feis had heroically thrown himself between the students and the shooter, sacrificing his life to save the lives of his students.
"He was just a great overall guy," Welker said of Feis. "He loved everyone. He was well-loved. It was tough to see that."
Welker, 20, was at the Rockies' training facility when the news first reached him. Immediately his world was turned upside down.
"One of my buddies texted me," Welker recalled. "He was like, 'Did you see what's going on?' I had no clue because I had just come off the field here. I thought maybe he was joking. I mean, I don't know who would joke about that, but I just couldn't see that happening there."
Welker had a close connection with many of the Douglas High staff and students, and he's still coming to terms with what happened.
"For me, you just read about [similar events] in the news and it's miserable, it's terrible, it breaks your heart," Welker said. "But then it happens in your hometown. I was really thrown back and in shock and disbelief. It happened so close to home. I live right there, too, so it's terrible to see.
"I actually knew the kid who did it," Welker said. "I went to middle school with him. I rode the bus with him for three years. It was complete shock."
Even before Welker's 2016 baseball team won the Florida Class 9A state championship and was named Baseball America's high school team of the year, Douglas was known as an athletic powerhouse -- Cubs All-Star Anthony Rizzo is among its alumni -- and a school with a rigorous academic environment.
"It's just terrible to be on the map for that reason, because usually we're on the map as a top sports school and things like that," Welker said. "People don't really know how beautiful it is, and how great of a city it is. It's still a great city. I don't think that's going to stop."
It came as no surprise to Welker that Douglas students and staff were quick to honor their fallen friends.
"I expected nothing less from that community and the kids," Welker said, praising the way the students are reflecting the character of the school. "It's amazing. I saw the other day, kids went over to President Trump and spoke out. People are trying to get the laws changed. I know a ton of people there that are going to stand up for that."
It can be hard for someone like Welker, the Rockies' No. 4 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, to feel like he can do something to make a difference from 2,000 miles away, but when Spring Training games begin in Arizona's Cactus League and Florida's Grapefruit League on Friday, all Major League players will honor the victims wearing Douglas High caps in a statement of solidarity. That includes Welker, who will be in uniform for the Rockies.
"I saw that on Twitter yesterday, and I was really thrown back," Welker said. "It was amazing to see that. It's going to be beautiful for the people to think of [our school] in a positive way. Instead of dwelling on the past, we'll try to get past it."
Friday will be a memorable landmark in the healing process for the community, and a moment that will give Welker reason to feel proud as an alum of the school and a part of the Major League Baseball community.
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com.