Anthony Rizzo and a few of his Chicago Cubs teammates huddled up Thursday morning, said a few words, and took the field at Marlins Park for their first batting practice of the season.
All of them wore Marjory Stoneman Douglas T-shirts.
As they have been since the tragic day in Parkland on Feb. 14 when gunman Nikolas Cruz opened fire on students and faculty at his high alma mater, killing 17 people, the victims of Marjory Stoneman Douglas have been on Rizzo’s mind.
“I honor them every day,” Rizzo said. “It’s where I’m from. It’s my city, it’s where I grew up, went to that school. Every day you think of them, every day you feel for what happened. But you just go out there and play baseball.”
Rizzo, who received a loud ovation from the home crowd during intros, spoke candidly to the media on Thursday morning and addressed the criticism aimed at student activists from his alma mater such as Emma Gonzalez and others, who have spoken out at multiple rallies, including the “March For Our Lives” in Washington this past weekend.
“For them to be getting bullied on Twitter by some guy with strong fingers, I think it’s pretty funny,” Rizzo said. “I know for a fact that they’re not going to let anything affect them in their mission. What they’re doing is bigger than themselves and it’s for love.
“I think you would never see this before in this country. You’ve never seen 11-year-olds speaking at a rally. Multiple 11-year-olds, 6-year-olds. I think the nation is listening. I think some politicians are maybe shaking a little bit, a little nervous. They’ve got to keep going and fight for what they believe in.”
When asked what he thought about some critics on social media calling the students ‘actors’ and accusing them of being controlled, Rizzo said: “I think they’re losers. You hear all these things and it’s like, how can you even say this? Where is your heart, where is your sense of sympathy. It’s as real as it gets. If you don’t think it’s real then go there. It’s crazy to hear that.
“They’re going to deal with it. Anytime you do something, you’re going to deal with backlash. I think what they’re doing is great.”
Rizzo, who spoke at the vigil at Douglas the day after the shooting, said Thursday that he felt there needed to be stricter gun laws.
“In my perfect world, make it stricter,” Rizzo said. “Make background checks a little tougher to get these guns. I think it’s a little too easy to get a gun. I think pretty much the entire nation can agree on that.
“My biggest thing is if you can make it harder to get guns, hopefully it eliminates a little bit of the problem.
“You’ve got these extremists, people who are going for all the gun laws. They’re going for the full extreme. And you’ve got the other side that is defending them that are going full extreme that we’re taking away rights. But I don’t think that’s the message. I think the message is somewhere in the middle that everyone can agree on.”
Rizzo, 28, has been back in South Florida several times during his major-league career. But this homecoming stirred up much different feelings.
Rizzo is hosting four of the victims and their families on Friday and they will be part of the pregame festivities.
The Marlins and Cubs will also wear ‘MSD Strong’ patches on their jerseys during their four-game series this weekend. The Marlins have placed a sign on their left field wall in honor of Douglas that reads ‘MSD Strong’ with a ribbon and 17 stars in honor of those killed in the shooting.
The Douglas baseball team is also going to play a game at Marlins Park against Coral Springs on April 4 following the Marlins’ first homestand, and the Marlins are planning a ‘Douglas Day’ on April 15 where students and faculty from the school will have free admission.
“[Friday] will be a tough one to see for everyone that has a pulse,” Rizzo said. “It’s really cool how the Marlins have supported Douglas and how pretty much every sports franchise has. It’s really cool to see.”