Wednesday, March 19, 2008

YANKEES 11, HOKIES 1,000,000

Like most major leaguers, the New York Yankees don't get too excited about Grapefruit League games, especially when a bus trip is involved.

Tuesday's spring training road trip was different.

Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees boarded a bus at their Tampa, Fla., training complex and caught a flight to Virginia, then another bus, for an exhibition game they all want to play. The Bronx Bombers vs. the Virginia Tech Hokies.

"All the players are looking forward to it," Jeter said Monday. "The players that can't go want to. I'm sure it will be emotional, especially for the student body."

Last April, Blacksburg became the focus of a horrified nation after a gunman killed 32 people on campus, and then himself.

People around the world rallied behind Virginia Tech and the community, and the Yankees were among the organizations that offered overwhelming support, donating $1 million to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund and asking if they could come play a game. (Hey Red Sox Nation, waddya got? Huh? One mil. That’s wicked, dude.)

The game wasTuesday afternoon in a stadium packed with 3,000 students who won a lottery for tickets, 1,000 faculty and staff, and victims of last April 16th.

Virginia Tech coach Peter Hughes still gets choked up when he thinks about that day, and the one coming.

"Everywhere in life we've got guys that talk and guys that do things," the second-year Hokies coach said. "And when the Yankees call and say, 'Hey, we want to help out. We've got to do something. Here's our idea: We want to come play and here's a million dollars.' How proactive is that? It blows you away, their generosity."

The Yankees have their own history with massive tragedy, playing in the same city where the attacks on the World Trade Towers claimed thousands of lives on Sept. 11, 2001.

"I really had a new appreciation for life after that," Jeter said. "I think it brings attention to how precious life is. You realize it's going to be a special trip and you can't take anything for granted. This really puts things in perspective."

The Yankees didn't just come to the ballpark. The first stop was on campus at the memorial for the victims of the shootings.


"I think it's important for guys to see it," first-year manager Joe Girardi said. "I get emotional thinking about it. Wake up in the morning, it's a blessing."

During batting practice, the Yankees wore caps in the Hokies’ orange and maroon, their `NY’ emblem on the front and a `VT’ logo on the side. Those were also the caps worn by Virginia Tech, while the Yankees switched to a Navy blue for the game, still with both emblems.

The pregame ceremony also included presentations to the Yankees of four nameplates engraved in “Hokie stone,” the limestone building material of choice on campus.

As 32 commemorative balloons were released and drifted out of sight, chants of “Let’s go Hokies” broke out. But the cheers were just as loud for the Yankees.

Rodriguez batted in the first with the bases loaded, and
hit the first pitch for a sacrifice fly to right. When Hokies starter Andrew Wells got Jason Giambi to ground into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play, the Hokies bench emptied to greet him.

“Seeing how they were pumped to have little moments that will last the rest of their lives, to have the conversations of, `Remember when?’ That was neat,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “This was fun for them and fun for our guys.

“What we did puts everything else in a little more perspective.”


Rodriguez and Jeter and most of the starters came out in the fourth inning, and A-Rod strolled across the field with two bats and sat with the Hokies in their dugout.


New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, right, signs autographs for the Virginia Tech baseball team prior to an exhibition game with the team on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., Tuesday, March 18, 2008. (AP Photo/Don Petersen)

New York Yankees baseball players and coaches, including shortstop Derek Jeter, center, visit the memorial for the April 16th shooting victims on the campus of Virginia Tech. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Tony Balistieri #10 of the Virginia Tech Hokies hits against the New York Yankees . (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Jason Giambi #25 of the New York Yankees. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

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