Diamondbacks honor late firefighters with tribute

PHOENIX — In their first home game since the tragic Yarnell Hill fire, the Arizona Diamondbacks paid an emotional tribute to the 19 Granite Mountain Hot Shots who lost their lives last week.

On Friday, the Diamondbacks and the visiting Colorado Rockies wore black caps with “Prescott Fire Dept.” lettered on the crest during batting practice and the national anthem, and the D-backs also wore a special black jersey with a block “Arizona” on the front and a “19” patch over the heart instead of the normal “D-backs” as an expression of state-wide solidarity.

After a 19-second moment of silence, the honor band from the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona played “Amazing Grace” while images of the lost fire fighters were shown on the Jumbotron board in center field. The oldest was 43, while 14 were in their 20s. The wives of four are expecting children.

The D-backs had just completed a three-game series in Atlanta on June 30 when they learned of the devastating consequences of the wildfire, believed to have been caused by a lightning strike.
“My heart just sank for the families,” Diamondbacks infielder Cliff Pennington said. “Those guys are our heroes. The stuff they do to protect us as civilians is awesome. You mourn for their families and pray there is something positive to come from it. Nothing can give back to the families what they lost, but whatever we can do to help, we are going to try to do.”

The fire is now 80 percent contained, officials said Monday, but was 0 percent contained when the Hot Shots volunteered to attack the blaze in the rugged, sometimes mountainous region of Arizona about 100 miles north-northwest of Phoenix

“It’s a sense of our community that has been lost,” Diamondbacks utility man Willie Bloomquist said. “It’s a heavy heart. We’re all in this together.”

As many organizations in Boston did after the Boston Marathon bombings, the D-backs have been quick to respond. They launched an online donation link that has raised $180,000 for the families, with the team matching the $90,000 raised by the community. Proceeds of the nightly 50-50 raffle at Chase Field during the Colorado series this weekend also is to be donated to the families.

The jersey tribute is similar to what the Red Sox did on April 20 for their first home game after the April 15 bombings. The team wore special jerseys with “Boston” on the front instead of the usual “Red Sox” and adopted the phrase “Boston strong.”

The D-backs put in a call to Major League Baseball to ask to wear the “Prescott Fire Dept.” hats during the game but were denied. The New York Yankees and New York Mets wore “NYPD” and “NYFD” caps after the Sept. 11 attacks, the only time baseball has allowed such a uniform deviation.

The Yarnell Hill fire resulted in the most firefighters deaths in the U.S. since Sept. 11. The Diamondbacks will auction off the “Arizona” jerseys to be worn this weekend, with the proceeds benefiting the families.

“We do it as a tribute to the families and the people who gave their lives fighting that fire,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. “We are on the road. It’s been tough for us, yet when we heard about that, that was the worst feeling we had.

“You can’t replace the people that you lose. You want them to remember their spirit and to live as though they are still guiding you. For us, we want to keep things in perspective. We are susceptible for things like that to happen. If it does happen to any of us, we can only hope that people like us and in the organization and people around the city of Phoenix are there to pick us up as well.”

Heath Bell has a relative who is a firefighter in Texas, and two of his friends are firefighters in Orange County, Calif., where he grew up.

“They run into a burning building … when people run away, they run towards it. You have to give them some credit,” Bell said.

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