Baseball remembers VT victims

Baseball remembers VT victims

PHILADELPHIA -- On a numbing day of national mourning, Major League Baseball on Tuesday joined the excruciating memorial to victims of the Virginia Tech carnage.

Teams did so with the only sensible gesture in a situation where words fail -- with moments of silence in two countries prior to a full schedule of games.

At Citizens Bank Park here ... at Comerica Park in Detroit ... at Yankee Stadium in New York ... at U.S. Cellular Field on the South Side of Chicago and Wrigley Field on the North Side ... at Busch Stadium in St. Louis ... at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. ...

... At Minute Maid Park in Houston ... At Safeco Field in Seattle ... At McAfee Coliseum in Oakland ... At Rogers Centre in Toronto ... And at Coors Field in Denver, in the shadow of Columbine '99 ...

... Hundreds of thousands of heads bowed in quiet introspection over the deafening senselessness of the acts they have been reading and hearing about.

One team, the Nationals, did even more to dramatize compassion for the affected. Acting on a suggestion by a fan -- Dave Lanham from Calvert County, Md. -- the Nats took the RFK Stadium field for the second inning of their game against the Braves wearing Virginia Tech caps.

And individuals added their hushed voices to the international outpouring of grief and disbelief.

"It's incomprehensible," Indians third-base coach Joel Skinner, the father of two college daughters, said in the Bronx.

"You think of the parents who sent their kids off to the school, just knowing they were safe there," said Mets third baseman David Wright. "And then this happens.

"Even if you're not connected to the school, it's tough. It's so sad."

It is tougher and sadder for Wright, who is connected to the school through younger brother Stephen, a Virginia Tech senior majoring in engineering; Norris Hall, where 29 of the 31 killings occurred, is a focal center of the school's engineering studies.

"I think he [was scheduled for] some classes there later in the day," Wright said of his brother, whose safety he learned about in a conversation with a second brother, Matthew, soon after the incident ended. "So there's a feeling of, 'I know those people.'"

Baseball's display of solidarity was initiated by Commissioner Bud Selig, who earlier in the day asked all home clubs to observe a moment of silence for "the victims of the horror that took place at Virginia Tech."h

The tragedy hit closest to home for the Nationals, whose ballpark is within 220 miles of Virginia Tech's Blacksburg campus. The Nats had already taken the lead with a moment of silence at RFK Stadium prior to their Monday night game against the Braves.

Also Monday night, a Carolina League game between Class A affiliates of the Nationals and the Astros had been postponed. Potomac, a Washington affiliate, was scheduled to play at Salem, a mere 17 miles from the crime scene.

The Nationals were able to make a more visible gesture after club president Stan Kasten, reacting to Lanham's e-mail, ordered 40 VT hats, which arrived during the first inning.

"When I read it, I thought, 'Wow. This is really nice,'" Kasten said. "It was the very least we could do. This happening in our backyard, we're more sensitive to it than anybody."

"That stuff can happen anywhere," said Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, a native of Virginia. "For it to happen so close, it's tough."

"I can't believe it," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who was reared in Buena Vista, Va., and was a two-sport star for Parry McCluer High School, about 75 miles north of Blacksburg. "It's a small college town. I was totally surprised. I spent a lot of time there."

In Chicago, Rangers first-base coach Art Howe was taken back eight years to the shootings at Columbine High School, which had prompted him and his wife, Betty, to found a program for the welfare of Oakland-area children.

"So many innocent people had their lives taken away," said Howe, referring to the Blacksburg massacre. "Each of those kids got up to go to school not realizing that it would be their last day on earth. What a shame."

In Detroit, the Tigers personalized their mournful moment with a reference to Brian Bluhm, a lifelong Tigers fan and VT graduate student who was among the victims.

Bluhm had gone through childhood in Troy, Mich., and remained a loyal Tigers fan following his family's move, to the point of making a name for himself on message boards.

On Tuesday, that name was spoken as a symbol of the losses felt by everyone, everywhere.

Transfixed by the images on his television in the visiting manager's office at Safeco Field, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire appeared deeply affected.

"It's heart-wrenching," he said. "I've got kids. Two of mine have been through college. One is still in high school. I guess it's hard to even imagine that it can happen.

"I saw a father talking about his 20-year-old daughter, who is supposed to be in the prime of her life, and he's talking about what a great person she was. I can't comprehend that with my own kids."

"It's tough for my wife, because some of the students are from my city, and you don't know what school they went to, so my wife doesn't know if she taught any of them or anything like that," said Twins outfielder Michael Cuddyer, a Chesapeake, Va., native whose wife, Claudia, was a teacher in the state until this past offseason. "And it's tough on a national level.

"Everyone sees it, the largest mass murder ... ever in the history of the country, but when you're closer to it, it even hits home more so. My heart goes out to all those families of the victims and to the families of the actual shooter. It's just tough."

Indians right-hander Paul Byrd, who has two adolescent kids, shuddered.

"I can't imagine losing them in college," Byrd said, "which is supposed to be one of the most fun times of their life, to some madman."

Royals rookie third baseman Alex Gordon, less than two years removed from on-campus life at the University of Nebraska, found inconceivable the thought of that existence being riddled so viciously.

"Having experienced that college atmosphere, it's just very frustrating to hear something like that happen," Gordon said. "It blows my mind.

"It crossed my mind, that could've happened to anyone, including me when I was in college. I guarantee that was a good neighborhood and a good atmosphere; it only takes one person to ruin it."

Said Mets closer Billy Wagner, a native of tiny Tannersville, Va., and the father of four, "It makes you want to be more aware of what they're going through and what they're doing. You don't want to lose touch with your kids. If they are going through a tough time, you want them to know that you're there to support them, no matter what."

Eventually, somehow, a healing will begin. And baseball people already talked about helping with it, in any fashion possible.

"I'll make a few phone calls, see what they need," said Joe Saunders, the Angels left-hander who has quickly gained a new identity as the Majors' only active ex-Hokie.

Saunders also talked about a way for his personal Virginia Tech tribute when he makes his next start, on Friday night at Angel Stadium against the Mariners.

"You can't do anything on your uniform," he said, prior to hearing about the Nationals' gesture, which had the hearty endorsement of Commissioner Selig.

"Once things settle down, I'd love to do whatever I can," Wright said. "Of course, you can't undo what happened. But I want to get involved any way I can.

"I have no real connection there. But I've been to football games there with my brother. I've sat in the student section. I always felt welcomed there."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.