Thirty-six hours after several classmates were gunned down in a massacre, Santa Fe High School athletes took the field Saturday to partake in a longstanding and, for at least one evening, healing Texas pastime: baseball.
The setting spring sun cast a golden glow as umpires dusted red dirt off the home plate and the crowd settled in the bleachers, all in preparation for a game that until Friday's killings was never expected to attract much attention.
Ten people, mostly students, were killed and 13 wounded when a teenage classmate armed with a shotgun and a revolver opened fire in the Santa Fe High School on Friday.
When the announcer introduced the Santa Fe Indians -- whose pitcher was shot in the back of the head by the gunman, miraculously survived and joined his team for the opening line-up -- the crowd of about 1,000 erupted in cheers.
Despite their star Rome Shubert's near death, and Santa Fe families preparing to bury loved ones, the team voted to play its Saturday playoff game as a show of strength and a means of catharsis in the face of tragedy.
"This is very, very important," Andie Martinez, a 16-year-old Santa Fe junior, told AFP of the game before the crowd rose for a moment of silence.
"You can just see how the community came together in this," she said. The shooter, identified as a 17-year old student, "tried to break us apart but the community stands strong."
- God spared me -
Shubert was among 13 people wounded in the school shooting.
"I'm so greatful (sic) and blessed that god spared me life today," Shubert wrote on Twitter, barely five hours after he was shot.
"Today I was shot in the back of the head but I am completely okay and stable."
Trent Beazley, a catcher on the team, was also injured when a bullet grazed his side.
Neither teen played, but both suited up and sat in the dugout to cheer on their teammates.
"We Are With You," read one sign taped to the bleachers.
The Indians held their own in the first inning, but by the second, they found themselves down 5-0, and the starting pitcher was pulled.
As he shuffled dejectedly off the mound, his Santa Fe teammates showered him with hugs.
"The town needed this right here," said one player's father, who watched from behind home plate.
Emma Clark, a Santa Fe senior who is set to graduate in just two weeks, chalked up the tentative play to jitters and the emotional weight of the tragedy.
"It's the day after the shooting and everybody's here and they get a chance to see how amazing they are and how humble they are at the same time," she said.
"At the end of the day, they're going to do what they love," she said of the team, many of whom are her close friends.
"These boys sleep, eat and breath baseball," she added. "So I feel like yeah, it probably has affected them some, but it's made them stronger."