MESA, Ariz. – Darnell McDonald felt compelled to drive the 100-plus miles from his Phoenix-area home to attend the wake and funeral for Christina-Taylor Green.
For McDonald, it became a small, obvious gesture of sympathy after a gunman opened fire in Tucson, killing six people and wounding 13 more, including Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman.
The Green family had so many connections that the baseball community fell into shock in January 2011. Christina-Taylor’s grandfather, Dallas, had guided the Philadelphia Phillies to a World Series title in 1980, built the Cubs team that almost got there in 1984 and managed both the New York Yankees and Mets.
Her father, John, is now a national crosschecker for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and had scouted McDonald extensively, working to close the deal as the Baltimore Orioles made him a first-round pick in the 1997 draft.
McDonald first met John as a teenager in the Denver suburbs. Now a 34-year-old man with a wife and three daughters, fighting for a job with the Cubs, he never got the chance to meet Christina-Taylor.
“Being a father, man, it just really touched my heart and I wanted to be down there and give him support,” McDonald said. “As a parent, you never want to have to bury your kids. I just really felt for him and his family.”
The Cubs and Dodgers will support the Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Foundation with Thursday’s benefit game at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium in Tucson.
Christina-Taylor was a baby born amid the national horror on Sept. 11, 2001, and that sparked an interest in politics and public service that led her to an event outside a supermarket for the chance to meet Giffords on Jan. 8, 2011.
The foundation’s website and the obituaries described her as the only girl on her Little League team, a curious student who had recently been elected to her elementary school council.
“I want to live up to her expectations,” President Barack Obama said at a memorial service at the University of Arizona. “I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it.”
Christina-Taylor – who had been one of 50 kids featured in the book “Faces of Hope: Babies Born on 9/11” – never made it to her 10th birthday. The biggest American flag left from the World Trade Center after the attacks was on display for her funeral at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church.
“I was able to hear a lot of beautiful things,” McDonald said. “(John) has baseball in his blood. Going to that wake, seeing that unbelievable support from a lot of players, coaches, scouts…once you’re in the baseball family, you want to support people in the baseball family.”
McDonald starred at Cherry Creek High School, the same Colorado program that has produced future big-league pitchers such as Brad Lidge and David Aardsma. Baseball America ranked McDonald as the best high school position player in the 1997 draft, and that might have been his second-best sport.
To this day, reporters will look out onto the field from the press box and say something like: That was the greatest high school running back I’ve ever seen.
McDonald fell to the Orioles at No. 26 after signing a letter of intent to play football at the University of Texas. A Sports Illustrated story had detailed his video-game numbers – more than 6,000 rushing yards, 80-plus touchdowns and three state titles.
Years later, while McDonald struggled in the minors, Cleveland Browns coach Butch Davis – who tried to recruit him to the University of Miami – asked if he wanted a shot as a running back and kick returner in the NFL. All this has made him a wise voice in the clubhouse.
Along with Orioles scout Logan White, John had established a level of trust and made a recommendation to draft McDonald, who got a signing bonus worth almost $2 million.
“I’m thankful to him,” McDonald said. “Having confidence in me and faith in me to draft me and give me an opportunity to put the uniform on – I’d do anything for him.”
That’s why the Cubs and Dodgers will take care of their own on Thursday in Tucson.
“I don’t think you ever get over something like that,” McDonald said, “but I know that he’s a strong person with a real good family.”