Pinstripe Bowl evokes memories of Yankees’ visit to Blacksburg after campus shooting

The Bronx Bombers suited up against the Hokies at English Field for an exhibition game, less than one year after the April 16 tragedy.
Published: Dec. 27, 2021 at 6:55 PM EST
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NEW YORK (WDBJ) - On March 18, 2008, the New York Yankees should have been in Tampa, Florida, preparing for an upcoming season at Spring Training.

Instead, they chose to spend that day in Blacksburg, Virginia.

“You know, people always ask, what can you do?” said former Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter on that day. “How does this help? I really don’t know. If it just makes people smile or enjoy themselves for the three hours that we’re here, it’s all worthwhile.”

The Pinstripes suited up against the Hokies at English Field for an exhibition game, less than one year after the April 16 campus shooting.

“Just a lifetime of memories,” recalled Tech’s head baseball coach at the time, Pete Hughes. “Good memories, which we needed to start accumulating again.”

Hughes was one of many Hokies moved deeply by that visit, which began at the memorial on the Drillfield.

It was there Derek Jeter met the fiancée of one of the victims.

“She asked me to take a picture with her fiancée’s memorial stone,” said Jeter. “I told her if she smiled. She did smile. So it’s a good story. It’s just part of the reason that we’re here.”

And then the famed Bronx Bombers took the field in front of a sold-out crowd.

“It was surreal,” said Hughes. “It was like Field of Dreams coming through the cornfields.”

“When I went up in the first inning and sat next to Frank Beamer,” former Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that day, “a young lady came up to me, and she said that her brother was one of the children killed, and her mother thanks us for being here. And that really hit me hard.”

The visit was the brainchild of late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who also donated a million dollars to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund.

And now, with the Tech football team repaying the visit to the Bronx, the relationship lives on.

“When something happens, you get that person who says, ‘Let me know if I can do something.’ Or you have people that just do something,” said VT interim head football coach J.C. Price. “And not just the money that they and all the players, organization donated, but for them to donate their time. To take time out of their schedule, when they could have been anywhere else but Blacksburg, Virginia, to play a baseball game, that’s what makes our feelings towards the Yankees very special.”

A full-circle moment, more than 13 years after a day Hokie Nation will never forget.

“How genuine they all were in wanting to play a part in healing a community that got turned upside down,” said Hughes. “They genuinely felt like they wanted to help, and they took pride in that they did help that day.”

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