7/6/2013 12:43:00 AM Chino Valley comes together for Hotshots with epic baseball game 19-inning game draws local ballplayers from across town
Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier Chino Valley Fire Department Captain Danny Parker, father of Granite Mountain Hotshot Wade Parker, hugs longtime family friends and Prescott Hotshots Dylan and Levi Guffey while, from left, Josh Macek, cousin, Chris Parker, cousin, Carrie, sister, Amber, sister, and DJ Parker, brother of Wade, look on after Danny gave an impromptu speech about his son before the start of a 19 inning baseball game in Wade’s honor Friday morning at Chino Valley High School.
Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier CourierBaseballgear fills the memorial seat area of former Chino Valley shortstop Wade Parker after its unveiling Friday morning in Chino Valley.
Fallen Granite Mountain Hotshot Wade Parker was a standout baseball player at Chino Valley High School, and a role model for many players and friends through the years. His fellow players and friends, many who had played ball with him from Little League to high school, organized a 19-inning benefit baseball game Friday, July 5, 2013 to honor all 19 firefighters who died in the Yarnell Hill Fire on June 30, 2013. The Parker family participated in the day with friends and community. Lots of tears were shed, but there were many smiles, too, as attendees spoke about the life, personality and example of Wade Parker.
Nineteen purple balloons and 19 innings of pickup baseball on a warm, partly cloudy summer day.
For the tight-knit town of Chino Valley, which lost one of its own to the Yarnell Hill fire last weekend, Friday's game at Nesbitt-Pratt Field marked an opportunity for healing and remembering 22-year-old Wade Parker.
Parker, one of the Prescott Fire Department's 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who perished while fighting the Yarnell wildfire, played shortstop for Chino Valley High for four seasons before graduating in 2009.
"Wade was passionate about baseball, so this is an appropriate venue for him and for the family," former Cougars assistant coach Bill McKnight said prior to Friday's contest, where he was the master of ceremonies.
"They've spent a lot of hours here at this baseball field and have great memories. Hopefully we can do whatever we can to help them."
As some 500 people streamed through the south-side gates of the intimate park for the contest, a small contingent collected donations for the Parker family.
Spectators also had the chance to sign a memory book for Wade and view large glossy photos of him during his high school playing days.
After graduating from Chino Valley High, the driven, motivated and athletic Wade moved on to play college baseball at Lamar (Colo.) for one season. However, firefighting soon took precedence in his life. He wanted to marry his fiancée and start raising a family.
Only two years ago, Wade was a JV assistant coach for the Cougars with a bright future ahead of him as a wildland firefighter.
Danny Parker, Wade's dad who has been a fireman with the Chino Valley Fire District for the past 20 years, attended Friday's game in uniform with his family.
"I thought that when I came down here, I didn't know if I'd be able to play or not," Danny said. "But when I got here and saw how everybody showed up and the love that was here for Wade and our family, it's overwhelming. The gratitude that we have for everybody here is unending."
Danny's wife, Michelle, and their three other children, including D.J. Parker, Amber Parker-McMains and Carrie Parker-Morena, joined cousins Josh Macek and Chris Parker, and maternal grandfather Vern Wegleitner at the game.
The 31-year-old Amber, the oldest of Danny and Michelle's children, paid an emotional tribute to Wade about 20 minutes before her father threw the first pitch.
"We're the proudest of Wade. He was an awesome ballplayer, and I don't know if baseball will ever be the same again," she said through a microphone while fighting back tears near home plate. "I have awesome brothers, and I'm not going to talk in past tense because he's still with us."
Carrie, 30, said that the tribute on the diamond is exactly what Wade would have wanted.
"Baseball's a phenomenon in our family - all the boys in our family play baseball," she said. "They say that my brother bled baseball. Wade encompassed every virtue that would make a man. He had character. Even when he was little we always called him 'Wade Man'."
Chris Parker, 27, who was the starting quarterback at Prescott High in the early 2000s, said he admires his aunt and uncle's strength and grace in light of Wade's death.
"I keep hearing stories and stories of stuff about what a leader Wade was and how he inspired people to live better, and just really get after life," said Chris, who now lives in Nashville, Tenn. "He really was a great kid."
Danny played baseball at Yavapai College as a walk-on in the late 1980s and passed on his love for the game - and, eventually, firefighting - to Wade.
When Danny's sons got old enough to start playing ball, he quit playing so he could coach them.
"Of all the ball I ever played in my life, I never enjoyed baseball as much as watching my boys," Danny said. "From the time they were both really small, I started playing ball with them just as they could walk."
But there was much more to Wade than what he accomplished on a baseball field or on a fire line, Danny said. Wade's wisdom and humility amazed his father.
"When he was a child, he just wanted to grow up with character and honesty and integrity," Danny said. "Those were principles that were instilled in him as a young man. Aside from everything else that he did, that was the core of Wade."
D.J. Parker, Wade's 18-year-old younger brother who played for the Cougars this spring before graduating, is still in shock about Wade's passing. He considers him his best friend.
D.J. said he'll miss Wade's smile and his infectious laugh the most.
"I never knew anybody that laughed until they cried as much as he did," said D.J., who is contemplating becoming a firefighter himself in honor of his brother. "It just came straight from his stomach. He'd get those big crocodile eyes."
To start every day, Danny prays for all of his children, asking God to protect them and be with them. His faith is what gives him the strength during this time of grief to carry on without Wade.
"I have no doubt in my mind that even during that tragic event, the Lord sustained Wade in his arms," Danny said. "We know that we will see him again."
Moments before Friday's game, 19 players each grabbed a purple balloon on a string and walked onto the field, where they released the inflatables into the sky.
The balloons soared high into the air and past the centerfield wall like home runs bound for the heavens.
Purple is the color used to commemorate fallen firefighters, and the symbolism was not lost on the crowd or the athletes.
Each former Chino Valley player on the field took turns saying a few brief words about Wade on the microphone before the balloons were let go.
McKnight said Friday's tribute was primarily designed to comfort the Parkers during their time of grief.
"The Parker family has been here a long time," he said. "They are Chino Valley. They're the fabric of this community. And when something like this happens, it gives our community, along with the quad-cities and the nation, an opportunity to hopefully feel the love. And, maybe, somehow, someway, help with the healing process."
Dylan Tucker and Jerry Garcia, two of Wade's former teammates at Chino Valley High in the late 2000s, among others, organized Friday's game. Tucker used the power of social media, including Facebook, to pull everyone together.
"This is just a kid with a big heart, you know? Wanting to raise money for the family," former Cougars assistant coach Don Roskopf said of Tucker, who led the effort. "He's done a great job."
Between 40-50 men, many of whom played for the Cougars baseball program over the past 13 years, participated in the contest. Members of the Bradshaw Mountain High baseball team, including longtime coach Randy Clifford, were present as well. Also suiting up were members of the Montezuma Federals, Prescott's independent pro team.
Garcia, a one-time Cougars captain who won a Class 3A state title with Chino in 2010 and sang the National Anthem before Friday's game, said being part of the tribute means the world to him.
At age 10, Garcia moved from Williams to Chino Valley and played on Wade's Little League team. Wade later took the younger Garcia under his wing while they played shortstop and second base together, respectively, in 2009.
"I played in the state championship, and won a state championship," Garcia said beforehand, "and this is the most important game I'm ever going to play in my life because I'm playing it for Wade."
Roskopf, an assistant under recently retired head coach Bruce Nesbitt when Wade played, has been a Parker family friend for years.
Nesbitt and his two sons, Jason and Bryan, were also on hand Friday. They are close with the Parkers as well.
Under Nesbitt, Wade served as one of the Cougars varsity team's captains his senior season in 2009. That spring, Chino advanced to the semifinals of the former Class 3A tournament and lost to eventual state champion Globe.
"He was a great kid," Roskopf said of Wade. "Like every kid, he'd get out of line once in a while, but we sure got him back in line. He was an inspirational leader for all the kids."
Roskopf added that the deaths of the 19 firefighters has demoralized Chino Valley and yet brought the community closer together.
A large group of locals came together at Nesbitt-Pratt Field for three days earlier this week to paint the home dugout and cut weeds.
But one of the finest gestures will be the installation of a permanent seat in the dugout with Wade's No. 4 on it. In Wade's memory, no one will sit in that chair.
Prior to Friday's contest, Garcia may have put it best when speaking of Wade's enduring spirit.
Posted: Monday, July 8, 2013
Article comment by:
What a great show of support. The Cougar baseball family is a tight knit group. I would say that we should rename the field after him, but who would want their name attached to that attrocity of a field. It was in really sad shape. Besides, Wade is now playing baseball on the finest field there is and playing on the best team, his Lord's team.