Rockies OF Sam Hilliard's father, diagnosed with ALS, attends Rangers game

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Colorado Rockies rookie outfielder Sam Hilliard grew up going to Texas Rangers games with his dad, who two years ago was diagnosed with ALS.

Hilliard's dad, Jim, is now getting to watch his son as a big leaguer in their hometown team's new stadium that otherwise is closed to fans because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"It's amazing that he can be here, especially the fact he's in Texas," Sam Hilliard said before Tuesday's game. "It's going to be something else to look up there and see him. ... Hopefully I'll get to interact a little bit with him after the game or something, get to see him. I haven't seen him in a while. It's going to be really cool and something to really cherish."

The 26-year-old outfielder's parents and fiancée were there when the Rockies played an exhibition game Tuesday. They are scheduled to attend another exhibition game Wednesday and be there for the regular-season opener between the two teams Friday, which will be Hilliard's first Opening Day in the big leagues.

"That's honestly a dream come true," Hilliard said. "It's such a blessing for my family, to have them here."

Hilliard homered in his big league debut in August and hit .273 with seven homers and 13 RBIs in 27 games over the final month of the season.

Colorado was originally scheduled to play two games in Texas in August, but with the restructured schedule, the Rockies became the first visiting team to play at Globe Life Field -- for exhibition games and the regular season.

Hilliard said it is getting harder for his parents to travel. His father, a retired orthopedic surgeon who played football at the University of Texas in the early 1970s, had been dealing with symptoms of ALS before his official diagnosis in 2018. Often called Lou Gehrig's disease, ALS is a progressive nervous system disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control. There is no cure.

Last season, Hilliard started speaking more frequently about Team Hilliard, the family's effort to raise awareness and raise money for the ALS Therapy Development Institute. His mother, Tamara, is a driving force behind the initiative. The outfielder is the youngest of the couple's three sons.

Although Hilliard didn't know all of the details that came together for his dad to see him play in Texas, he knows the Rangers helped find a way "for them to get in and be socially distanced from anyone else and have a little spot in the stadium."

Hilliard's family was sitting on the main concourse level, above the Rockies' dugout on the third-base side. That provided a good spot to view Hilliard playing left field and when the left-handed hitter came to bat and went 1-for-3 with a run.

He is back in Texas for the first time since before spring training began in February.

"It's a little bit different, can't really leave the hotel too much," he said.

Five-time All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado, who hit one of the Rockies' three home runs in a 5-1 win, said it was a first-class move by the Rangers, Rockies and Major League Baseball to allow Hilliard's family in for the games.

"That's a tough situation to go through, and I don't want to imagine going [through] that. But you know, Sam's a tough kid and has got a big heart," Arenado said. "His head's in the right place. If that was me, I'd have a lot of trouble focusing on baseball. ... He's doing it for his family. He's doing it for his dad."

Hilliard said he grew up 10 or 15 minutes from the new stadium, which is across the street from the former stadium, where he had his first real job.

"It was at the sports park behind center field, where they had that Wiffle ball field," he said. "I was one of those kids throwing Wiffle balls to little kids."