Lewis Brinson grew up playing baseball only minutes from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
And even now as a pro, the Marlins’ 23-year old outfielder still works out at a park across the street from the school.
So for Brinson, the unspeakable tragedy that occurred Wednesday afternoon hit very close to home.
Nikolas Cruz, the suspect, was booked into Broward County Main Jail Thursday morning. He is charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.
“It was tough,” Brinson said. “It’s really sad that that happens again. It’s something that’s got to stop and something heavy-hearted. That was my rival high school. I used to play against them all the time.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to those families that lost those 17 people. They don’t have anybody to go home to or wait for in the parking lot when they go to that school and it’s just a sad day. My heart is real heavy right now.”
Brinson, a graduate of Coral Springs High, which is just five miles from Douglas, was leaving the Marlins’ Spring Training facility at Roger Dean Stadium on Wednesday when he heard about the shooting that left several students and teachers dead.
“I turned on the news yesterday and was kind of just glued to the TV when I saw it,” Brinson said. “I called my coach that I hit with every day and we were just in shock that something like that could happen. It’s such a safe community. That community is peace and quiet. I feel like people go there to raise families and be in communities that aren’t really affected by stuff like that.”
And he wasn’t the only one that couldn’t believe his eyes.
Former Marlins outfielder Juan Pierre, who has lived in the Parkland community since 2006, said he saw 10 police cars zooming by him on the highway heading in the direction of Douglas High and then got home only to watch the scene unfolding.
“You get home and see the fatalities and the kids with blood and it’s just — I’ve got kids in my neighborhood,” said Pierre, who lives roughly 10 minutes from Douglas. “My next door neighbor was one of the kids that had to hop the fence to get away. So it’s just close to home.
“Unfortunately, we’ve heard this a lot. But in that community you wouldn’t think something like this would happen.”
Pierre said he had to explain to his 6-year old son, who goes to school in Margate, what was going on at the time.
“We were playing in the backyard and the shooter is still at large,” Pierre said. “I’m like, ‘We might better get in. He might be roaming around.’ It’s definitely a teaching moment.
“It’s just a sad day. You remember the Sandy Hooks, the Columbines. After Columbine, everything stopped, malls closed. Now we blink our eye because it’s almost becoming normal, and that shouldn’t happen anywhere in the world, but especially here in the United States. It’s reaching everybody. It doesn’t have a skin color or an economic thing. It’s hitting everywhere. As Americans, we need to take heed … because our kids are dying. We’ve never had a war [fought inside] in our country, but we’re starting to kill ourselves within. I think it’s something we need to start taking a look at.”
Marlins manager Don Mattingly made it a point to address the shooting before answering any questions about baseball on the second day of spring training.
The Marlins also lowered their flags at the facility to half-mast in honor of the victims.
“Before anything we just want to send our heartfelt condolences for Douglas High School and what happened in Parkland yesterday,” Mattingly said. “It’s something that affects our community and our area and hits closer to home. We’ve seen it in Orlando and we’ve seen it in Vegas and the fact that it’s happening so often is just disturbing. From an organizational standpoint, we feel for the South Florida community.”
Brinson, who joined the Marlins three weeks ago after he was traded to Miami from Milwaukee, said he didn’t know any of the victims personally, but has developed many friendships with players and coaches from the school over the years.
“I don’t really know anybody that went to the school currently, but I know the [Douglas] baseball coach, Fitz [Todd Fitz-Gerald],” Brinson said. “I played against him in high school. I heard he’s safe and his family is safe.”
Brinson still spends plenty of time in his hometown in the offseason, and has even worked out with Cubs first baseman and Douglas alum Anthony Rizzo at the nearby Coral Springs Aquatic Complex in the offseason.
“I feel for [Rizzo],” Brinson said. “I know he went there and I’m sure he still has ties there with some of the coaches and kids that go there now. My heart goes out to him. I’m sure he’s feeling it being from that area and living in that area. I know his parents used to live in that area so I know their hearts are heavy right now like all of us.”
Brinson said he was shocked something like that could happen at Douglas, a school he described Thursday as “extremely safe.”
“To see something like that happen is crazy to think that you’re not safe anywhere nowadays,” Brinson said. “It’s something that needs to stop and hopefully this brings it to a head and we can get something done about it.”