Yanks moved by Va. Tech memorial
Team pays tribute to those lost in April 2007 shootings
BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Tears welled in manager Joe Girardi's eyes as the Yankees stood solemnly on the Virginia Tech campus on Tuesday morning, viewing a memorial established in the memory of those lost in last year's shootings.
"I'm sure there were a ton of emotions when the players walked around the monument," Girardi said. "It's just a real reminder of how precious life is and how fortunate we are to have our health and be able to do what we do.
"What I take from it is you should give your best every day, because you never know about tomorrow. When you're trying to do something like winning a championship, this should move you to do whatever you can. You never know what will happen tomorrow."
Ringed around 32 small stones, each dedicated to a person lost on April 16, the Yankees stood solemnly in their travel dress attire. Some stopped to read small notes, lending a face and a story to the names engraved at the site.
"It should have moved our players, and that's a good thing," Girardi said. "I think it's something our players will talk about for a long time."
The concept of the Yankees' visit to Virginia Tech was hatched in less than five minutes, general partner Hal Steinbrenner and president Randy Levine said.
Watching television coverage of the shootings, in which a gunman took 32 lives and then his own, George Steinbrenner issued a directive that the Yankees do something to help the healing process.
Reaching out, the club presented a $1 million donation to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund before a May game against the Red Sox. The Yankees also pledged to use an off-day during 2008 Spring Training for an exhibition game at Virginia Tech.
"On behalf of the entire organization and my family, it is an honor to be here," Hal Steinbrenner said. "I'm glad to see this day is now here."
"This is the last part of the first commitment between the Yankees and Virginia Tech," Levine said. "Hopefully, it's something that can advance the great spirit the university showed on that tragic day."
One person held a paper sign reading "Thank You." Most wore Virginia Tech's maroon and orange; others donned Yankees pinstripes and apparel for the visit, welcoming the club's players and staff at the Drill Field memorial site and as they approached English Field.
There was sadness, but also enthusiasm. A female student wearing a Derek Jeter jersey approached the shortstop, asking him for a photograph. The photo was taken in front of her fiance's memorial stone -- part of a display that was erected during a candlelit vigil last year by the student body, not the university.
"She did smile, so it's a good story," Jeter said. "There's a reason we're here. This reminds me a little bit of Sept. 11. People always asked me, 'How does this help?' I really don't know, but people are smiling and enjoying themselves."
The club will play a 3 p.m. ET exhibition game against the Hokies at English Field, a baseball stadium that is expected to hold about 5,500 fans for the seven-inning contest. Louisville Slugger has donated wood bats for Virginia Tech to use, and the Yankees will wear maroon-and-orange caps during batting practice to be auctioned toward the memorial fund.
As the Yankees' buses pulled away, escorted by Virginia State Police cruisers and motorcycles, three twentysomething females jumped, waved and screamed. One, wearing a Jorge Posada jersey, clutched a freshly autographed ball bearing her favorite players' signatures.
Some lingered to see the caravan off. Most walked across the field on their way to classes, dormitories and a life that now, nearly one year after the event, has started to return to normal.
"That's what's great about the game," Alex Rodriguez said. "It fixes a lot of things for a short period of time."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.