The Yankees were celebrated by the school not for their $1 million
donation, but for the simple act of being here. Derek Jeter and Alex
Rodriguez found their way into the Appalachian mountains, and the whole
Yankees team gave the 5,500 students and faculty at Virginia Tech a day
they'll never forget.
"This is the biggest thing to ever happen to Blacksburg," catcher
Anthony Sosnoskie said. "Everything is back to normalcy. We'll never
forget the people we lost, but this is a fun day."
Baseball coach Pete Hughes agreed, saying that after a trying 2007
season in which the team played through tragedy, "our guys are finally
back to being college baseball players again."
And the students lucky enough to score free tickets were ready to be
"What do you say to somebody in that
On April 16, 2007, Marcy Crevonis lost her fiance, Mike Pohle, in the
shooting that took 31 other lives on the Virginia Tech campus.
Crevonis is a Yankees fan, and she joined the players as they toured the
campus memorial. When Jeter and Rodriguez reached Pohle's memorial
stone, Crevonis asked the players if she could take their picture near
it. She was shaking with nerves as she approached the superstars, but
their hearts were beating just as fast.
"What do you say to somebody in that situation?" Rodriguez asked. "She
asked me to sign his picture, which was on her T-shirt. It's a very sad
situation, and my prayers go out to all their families."
Jeter told Crevonis that he was happy to see her smiling, and he added to
reporters that situations like that are why the team visited Blacksburg.
"People ask, 'How does a visit like this help?'" Jeter said. "I really
don't know, but people are smiling and enjoying themselves for the few
hours we're here.
"It would have been easy just to send a check and wish the school well,
but I think it was very important for us to be here and go that extra
mile. Baseball for a lot of people can be a medicine and be very
therapeutic. It fixes a lot of things for a short time."
Before the game, the victims were memorialized with a 32-balloon
release. For participating, Yankees officials were presented with blocks
of "Hokie Stone," the rock that the campuses buildings are made out of.
"I'm not a Yankees hater today. Maybe
Tech coach Pete Hughes spent his whole life in Boston, including a
coaching stint at Boston College, before moving to Blacksburg. The
lifelong Red Sox fan got a text message on Tuesday morning from Boston
manager Terry Francona.
"Good luck," it read. "Pound Jeter inside. Go get 'em."
Hughes laughed but added that the Yankees' outreach changes how he feels
"I grew up my whole life just hating the Yankees. I mean just
hating them," he said. "Now, I'll look at them differently.
We'll all look at them differently."
First baseman Sean O'Brien grew up a Red Sox fan but brought his digital
camera along to take a picture with Jeter.
"I'll definitely take some crap for that," O'Brien said. "But it's worth
it. This is really awesome."
The crowd felt similarly, giving the visitors a loud ovation at every
opportunity and at the end of the game. Despite cold weather, the fans
stayed to the very last out.
"During the game, people were in the stands talking to me, thanking us
for being here and telling us how much it meant to them," Yankees general
manager Brian Cashman said. "This was an opportunity for us to let
Blacksburg know that there's a lot of people out there who care."
"We hope it's no worse than 40-0."
Sophomore Brandon Connor, along with his companions, didn't hold out
much hope for the Virginia Tech team itself.
"I'm guessing the Yankees will score about 36 runs," he said. "It
depends how quickly the rain moves in."
The Hokies lost, 11-0, in a game that included some impressive pitching
performances. Brandon Fisher, throwing for the
first time this season, struck out two in the fourth inning.
It was a laid-back game, with Yankees manager Joe Girardi
leaving his post for an inning to talk to legendary Virginia Tech
football coach Frank Beamer.
"I think he's got a great message for the athletes here," Girardi
said. "Even with all the success he's had, he's down to earth and so
Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi mentioned that he wouldn't mind coming back for a
football game in the fall.
"This is probably the proudest I've been to
wear a Yankees uniform."
The Virginia Tech football team has a metal lunch pail that it carries
around to practices and games. It symbolizes the blue-collar
mentality of the team and the area.
The Yankees, wearing the immaculate pinstripes and playing in the city
that never sleeps, would seem to be at odds with that mentality.
But the players emphasized their shared humanity, comparing last April's
shooting with the events of 9/11, saying they were honored to be a part
of the healing.
"People ask me what's the most important game of the year -- playoffs,
World Series, whatever," Rodriguez said. "To me, this is the most
important game of my Yankees career, because it makes you realize how
fragile life can be. This is probably the proudest I've been to wear a
As Virginia Tech approaches the one-year anniversary of the shooting and
a return to normalcy, the community was happy to have the Yankees on
hand to move on with them.
"Everyone is back on campus now," O'Brien said. "We're back to Hokie
Nation, and there's a greater sense of pride than ever. This has really
brought us together."