The Night Where Baseball Became More Than Just a Game in El Paso
Three hours and thirty-six minutes.
That was the exact time of El Paso Chihuahuas' home return to Southwest University Park Wednesday evening.
On a partly cloudy night, five days following the tragic mass shooting that took 22 lives at the Cielo Vista Wal-Mart and just a 15-minute drive from where the President met with local officials and first responders, El Pasoans at the ballpark had some time to escape from everything.
Though the atmosphere was a bit timid throughout the night, and the crowd didn't fill up as much, it was a time for togetherness and healing for those that were in attendance.
Fifteen minutes before the first pitch, some of the Chihuahuas players came out of the dugout to do their routine pre-game stretches. Most of them interacted with the fans that huddled around the dugout, signing autographs and giving high-five's to kids.
Catcher Webster Rivas caught my eye as he was hanging around the dugout. The Dominican Republic native, who joined the team in sporting the black El Paso jerseys with the "EP" hat, looked my way and asked, "how is your family?"
Clearly, the mass shooting affected the Chihuahuas players too.
Earlier in the day, the MountainStar Sports Group Foundation, on behalf of the El Paso Chihuahuas Foundation and the El Paso Locomotive FC Foundation, the Foster Family Foundation and Hunt Family Foundation announced that they will contribute a total of $150,000 to the two victims’ relief funds to support those affected by the tragic event.
The Padres organization will also make a $30,000 donation to the El Paso Victims Relief Fund through a joint contribution from the Padres Foundation, Executive Chairman Ron Fowler and General Partner Peter Seidler.
Prior to the start of the first pitch, both teams gathered around the diamond to honor the fallen victims. A 22-second moment of silence took place at Southwest University Park to remember the lives that were taken. The commemoration was breathtaking and emotional, seeing all fans of different backgrounds stand up, take their caps off and remember their fellow neighbors.
Wal-Mart store manager Robert Evans was honored before the start of the game following the tragedies. Fans gave him a standing ovation and as he walked through the ballpark, he was greeted with handshakes and thank you's.
Around the concourse, there wasn't the normal loud chatter you would usually hear from fans grabbing their food and heading to their seats. Fans were locked in the game, cheering when big plays happened and jumping out of their seats when El Paso belted a home run, like catcher Austin Allen's three-run homer in the first inning.
Maybe the more modest crowd size was simply due to it being a Wednesday evening and a school night for some. Or possibly fans from the east side figured they shouldn't be out driving while roads were barely being reopened from the President's visit. Then there's the grim possibility—could some fans still be worried to leave their homes?
It's best not to look at it that way. In fact, those thousands of fans that attended Wednesday's game could be symbolic of the early healing process. Baseball was therapeutic last night. And the ones that were able to experience it truly saw something far beyond baseball.
Round Rock scored one run or more in each of the nine innings while seeing infielder Alex De Goti hit for the cycle, as the Express rocked the Chihuahuas 20-12. The Chihuahuas have lost five of their last eight games and Las Vegas now surpassed them in first place of the Pacific Coast League Southern Division by one game.
El Paso hit four home runs on Wednesday evening, which boosted their season total to 226, five short of tying the modern era Pacific Coast League record for homers in a season.
This was the first game of the seven-game homestand that El Paso has at Southwest University Park.