ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Colorado Rockies rookie outfielder Sam Hilliard grew up going to Texas Rangers games as a kid with his dad, who two years ago was diagnosed with ALS.
His dad, Jim, is now getting to watch his son as a big leaguer in their hometown team’s new stadium that otherwise is closed to fans because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s amazing that he can be here, especially the fact he’s in Texas,” Sam Hilliard said before Tuesday’s game. “It’s going to be something else to look up there and see him. … Hopefully I’ll get to interact a little bit with him after the game or something, get to see him. I haven’t seen him in a while. It’s going to be really cool and something to really cherish.”
The 26-year-old outfielder’s parents and his fiance were there when the Rockies played in an exhibition game Tuesday night. They are also scheduled to attend another exhibition game Wednesday night, and be there for the regular season opener between the two teams Friday, which will be Hilliard’s first opening day game in the big leagues.
“That’s honestly a dream come true,” Hilliard said. “It’s such a blessing for my family, to have them here.”
Hilliard homered in his first big league debut last August, and hit .273 with seven homers and 13 RBIs in 27 games over the final month of the season.
Colorado was originally scheduled to play two games in Texas in August, but with the restructured schedule the Rockies became the first visiting team to play in Globe Life Field — both for an exhibition game and the regular season.
Hilliard said it is getting harder for his parents to travel around. His father, a retired orthopedic surgeon who played football at the University of Texas in the early 1970s, had already been dealing with symptoms of ALS before his official diagnosis in 2018. Often called Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a progressive nervous system disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control. There is currently no cure.
Hilliard last season started speaking more frequently about Team Hilliard, the family’s effort to raise awareness, and raise money for ALS Therapy Development Institute. His mother, Tamara, a former Miss Texas, is a driving force behind the initiative. The outfielder is the youngest of the couple’s three sons.
While Hilliard didn’t know all of the details for how everything came together for his dad to see him play in Texas, he knows the Rangers helped find the a way “for them to get in and be socially distanced from anyone else, and have a little spot in the stadium.”
His family was sitting on the main concourse level, above the Rockies dugout on the third base side. That provided a good spot to view Hilliard playing left field and when the left-handed hitter came to bat and went 1 for 3 with a run scored. He was back in Texas for the first time since before spring training began in February.
“It’s a little bit different, can’t really leave the hotel too much,” he said.
Five-time All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado, who hit one of the Rockies’ three home runs in a 5-1 win, said it was a first-class move for the Rangers, Rockies and Major League Baseball to allow Hilliard’s family in for the games.
“That’s a tough situation to go through, and I don’t want to imagine going to that. But, you know, Sam’s a tough kid and has got a big heart,” Arenado said. “His head’s in the right place. If that was me, I’d have a lot of trouble focusing on baseball. … He’s doing it for his family, he’s doing it for his dad.”
Hilliard said he grew up about 10-15 minutes from the new stadium with a retractable roof, which is across the street from the former stadium, where as a kid he had his first real job.
“It was at the sports park behind center field, where they had that Wiffle ball field,” he said. “I was one of those kids throwing Wiffle balls to little kids.”
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