For Sandy Hook victim and her dad, Texas Rangers created special moments

Posted Friday, Apr. 05, 2013  Print Reprints
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ARLINGTON -- Emilie Parker wasn't so much a baseball fan as a fan of people.

Even at age 6, the blue-eyed, blond girl -- one of the 26 victims in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting -- had the ability to sense what mattered to those she met and to build a relationship based on that.

When it came to her father, Robbie Parker, who will throw out the ceremonial first pitch this afternoon at the Rangers' home opener, that connection was the Rangers, a team he had come to love as a child during the nine years he lived in Arlington on a cul-de-sac off Center Street.

"She wasn't a sports enthusiast," Parker said Thursday afternoon after checking his family into the Hilton Arlington. "She paid attention to it because she knew it mattered to me."

The evening before the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown, Conn., the Parker family went out to dinner to talk about the Rangers.

Parker, a physician assistant who works in the newborn intensive care department of a Danbury, Conn., hospital, had learned that day that free-agent slugger Josh Hamilton was signing with the rival Los Angeles Angels.

To dad and daughter, Hamilton was a special player not because of his athletic feats but because of the personal hurdles he had overcome.

"I used him as a teaching tool for Emilie," Parker said. "I wanted her to know that life's not always easy but you should never give up."

When he picked up Emilie from the school bus stop that day and told her of Hamilton's departure, her bubbly demeanor changed.

"She said, 'Are you OK?'" Parker recalled with a smile. "I told her I was beyond devastated."

Once home, Emilie sought out her mother. "I think we should go out to dinner tonight," she told her mom. "I think it would cheer Daddy up."

On the last evening the family would ever be whole, the conversation was about how well the Rangers would do despite losing Hamilton and what games the family might catch at Yankee Stadium, the closest ballpark to the Parkers' home, when the Rangers came to visit.

In the weeks after the tragedy, ESPN Dallas and the blogs The Newberg Report, Lone Star Ball and Baseball Time in Arlington helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for Emilie's Fund. The fund -- started by two of Parker's high school friends who will attend the game today -- was established to help the family cover the cost of traveling to Ogden, Utah, for Emilie's burial.

"It ended up taking off," Parker said, and other grieving families received help from it, too.

Now that it has served its purpose, he said, the plan is to keep Emilie's spirit alive by using future donations to support school and community art programs.

"That's what Emilie loved," he said.

Baseball is also honoring the shooting victims. At each team's home opener, players, managers, coaches, umpires and on-field personnel are wearing a patch with the town seal, a black ribbon and a star for each victim.

When the Rangers invited Robbie and Alissa Parker and Emilie's sisters, Madeline and Samantha, to Opening Day festivities, they asked the family to take its time thinking about it.

"My wife and I decided that if we could demonstrate our appreciation for all the love and prayers and support we received from Texas, it was something we wanted to do," Parker said.

One thing they didn't want to do was take up the Yankees on their invitation to all the victims' families to attend Opening Day in the Bronx.

"I said, 'Nope, can't do that,'" Parker said with a laugh.

The only question left is whether he'll deliver the pitch from the rubber or the front of the mound.

"I'm prepared for either," said Parker, who started playing baseball as a youth in Arlington and continued into high school in Utah.

He also worked for two years as the mascot for a minor-league team.

Even so, he admitted to being a little nervous.

"You only get one shot," he said with a laugh.

Patrick M. Walker,

682-232-4674

Twitter: @patrickmwalker1