ARLINGTON – The Rangers took their turn at the impossible on Monday.
In their first home game since the Uvalde school shooting a week ago, they tried to properly memorialize the victims of another mass shooting, while encouraging a crowd of more than 25,000 fans to have a great time and while tip-toeing around the national conversation on gun violence that has overtaken the country and the sports world in the last week.
The Rangers had a weird confluence of events on their hands: Memorial Day, the need to make a statement on the Uvalde shooting and the presence of the only two players in the Major Leagues from the two communities that have seen the most tragedy from shootings this year. Rangers catcher Jonah Heim is from Buffalo, N.Y. and went to high school seven miles from the Tops Supermarket where 10 people were shot dead earlier in the month; Tampa Bay reliever Brooks Raley grew up in Uvalde.
How to honor the families of soldiers who gave their lives in defense of the country and memorialize a community shattered by violence? And how to do it while trying to stay out of the debate?
“You just try to do the right thing,” Rangers Executive Vice President of Public Affairs John Blake said Monday. “Our biggest thing right now is to support the community. In the short-term the best thing we can do is financially support the fund for the school. In the longer-term, we will see how we can best be of assistance. All we want to do is support the community.”
For the Rangers, this meant a moment of silence before the game, which every team in the majors has done at some point since the shooting. It was part of a somber pre-game ceremony that included honoring 12 Gold Star Families as part of its Memorial Day tribute. Then the National Anthem. And then trying to get the crowd to have a wonderful time.
On that last point: Eli White made one of the greatest catches in Rangers history four batters into the game, going a good four feet above the 6-foot high fence in left to steal a homer. Then he hit a two-run homer. Josh Smith, recalled earlier in the day, tied a club record with three hits in his major league debut. The Rangers beat the Rays, 9-5. Everybody had a great time.
It meant using the proceeds from the nightly Texas 2 Step Raffle as the starting point for its contribution to Uvalde. The team’s share of the raffle came to nearly $11,500. The team’s charitable foundation announced it would match that donation. It, along with MLB, is exploring more ways to support the community.
It will not, however, mean joining the chorus of voices in the sports world that have taken an activist stance on the issue. Nobody will bang a table and demand change as Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr did prior to the last pro sports event in the area. Kerr, whose father was shot to death, has long been a prominent voice in the sports world on such topics. Chris Woodward will not follow San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler’s decision to boycott the National Anthem.
The social media teams of the Tampa Bay Rays, Monday’s Rangers opponent, and the New York Yankees, the most iconic franchise in sports, with more than 4 million combined Twitter followers between them, used their timelines to discuss gun violence during a game last week. The Seattle Mariners, this weekend’s opponent in Arlington, announced they’d turn the iconic pink neon lights that frame T-Mobile Park orange for National Gun Violence Awareness Day on Friday, the theme of which is to wear orange. The Rangers have been in conversation with Seattle about how the teams could work together.
Woodward, the father of three kids, was, like most parents, shaken by the most recent shootings.
“I know there are some guys that like to use the platform, but my platform is that I’m not going to pick a political side,” he said when asked how he’s processed the last week. “I don’t think this is a political issue. I think this is a human being issue. After Buffalo, the one thing that stuck with me is that racism is not going away. And the more we talk about that, maybe something will change.
“After [Uvalde], I can’t even put myself in the mental headspace that those parents or that community have gone through. It’s too painful to even think about. So I don’t know where I stand exactly, to be honest. I just know we need to be kinder to each other. And I think that’s where I have to start. That’s something we’re not good at right now.”
Neither Heim, in his second full year in the majors, nor Raley, who went seven years between his MLB appearances, wanted to use the day to make any kind of statement. Raley, through a Rays public relations official declined to comment. Heim, whose second child was born just 10 days before the Buffalo shooting, found it difficult to discuss.
While Heim lives in North Texas year-round, his parents and grandparents still live in Buffalo. He’s thought about the shootings often, but he still can’t find words.
“I just can’t imagine that situation and having to go through it,” he said. “It’s hard to put into words.”
President of Baseball Operations Jon Daniels spent the weekend with his wife and three kids, one of who is a fourth grader, like many of the Uvalde victims. He spent part of the weekend talking about the subject with them. Like so many of us, he’s spent much of the last week engaging with people on the subject of gun violence, mental health, reforms and the future. He acknowledged supporting politicians with similar stances on gun reforms.
“And I’m still not sure I’ve processed it,” he said. “The things the club is doing are nice gestures to help the grieving. But the question we all have to answer is what are we doing to prevent it from happening again? If not, we’re just waiting for the next fundraiser.”
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