The Virginia Tech football team will play a game at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday.
But 13 years ago, the New York Yankees came to Virginia Tech to play a game.
“Loop moment,” former Virginia Tech pitcher Andrew Wells said in a telephone interview this week.
Wednesday’s Pinstripe Bowl between the Hokies and Maryland isn’t the first time Virginia Tech and the Yankees have been linked.
To help the Virginia Tech community recover from the April 16, 2007 shootout, the Yankees came to Tech on March 18, 2008, to play against the Hokies baseball team in an exhibition game in front of 5,311 fans and around. 100 members of the media at English Domaine.
“It was almost larger than life, it looked like back then,” former Tech second baseman Matt Hacker said this week. “The match day experience was almost like a concert. The guys were rock stars.
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Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez were among the big names who played for the Yankees that day. Yankees players signed autographs for the Hokies and fans ahead of the game. They chatted with the Hokies before, during and after the game.
“This [game] symbolized that 11 months later we are still healing, but we are moving forward and there are people supporting us, ”former technical receiver Anthony Sosnoskie said this week. “We all, as a collective unit, really enjoyed what they did for us that day.”
These Hokies have become enduring admirers of the Yankees.
“For them to come down and do that, I’m a die-hard Red Sox fan and when they play against the Yankees I’ll be supporting the Red Sox, but since then I… never wish the Yankees ill will, just because of what they’ve done as an organization for Virginia Tech, ”former Tech first baseman Sean O’Brien said this week.
The 2008 exhibition game was not the first memorable game in these players’ tech careers.
On April 20, 2007, the Tech baseball team lost to Miami in front of a record crowd of over 3,000 fans on the English pitch in the first Tech home sporting event after the shootout.
“This first comeback game on campus was a more emotional night for me than the game against the Yankees,” said Sosnoskie. “Four days after the shooting, playing in front of an audience who [thinking], ‘We have to be here, heal together,’ play such a competitive game that night and kind of represent what a Hokie is, that was a lot. “
So maybe it was fair that in late May 2007 the Yankees (then owned by the late George Steinbrenner) announced that not only would they be donating $ 1 million to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, but that the team would would head to the Commonwealth the following spring. for an exhibition match against the Hokies. On the night of the announcement, then-president Charles Steger threw the first pitch ahead of the Yankees’ nationally televised victory over the Red Sox.
Word of the game quickly spread among the Hokies, who were living in their home at that time in May.
“Some of my teammates called me, ‘The Yankees are coming to see us next year!'” Said Sosnoskie. “I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ Then you turn on your TV and bang, that’s it. “
Virginia Tech increased English Field seating for the game, spending approximately $ 420,000 to build permanent amphitheater-style stone patio seating in the hill on the left field line.
“These workers, I feel like every time we were there, whether it was a Saturday at 9 a.m. or a weekday game at the beginning of March, they were working around the clock so that this is ready, ”Sosnoskie said.
Tech also brought portable bleachers behind the center field and right field fences and along the right field line.
Still, there was room for less than 6,000 fans, so the general public couldn’t come. About 1,000 people received special invitations, including the families of those killed in the shooting; survivors; and first responders. There was also a ticket lottery for technology students and another lottery for teachers and technology staff.
“It was the hottest ticket in town,” said Hacker, who is now senior vice president of a property management group in Norfolk.
When the Hokies entered their locker room before the game, they were told they would be wearing pinstripe brown uniforms.
“I still have the jersey,” Hacker said. “Wearing brown stripes that day was pretty neat. Wearing stripes and playing against the Yankees is something I’ll cherish forever.”
Before the game, the Yankees visited the campus memorial to pay their respects to the 32 people killed.
About 100 people viewed the memorial, including Marcy Crevonis, a tech student and Yankees fan whose fiancee, Mike Pohle, was killed in the shooting. She was wearing a T-shirt that she had made; the shirt had his fiancee’s photo on the back, along with the date he was killed. She took a photo with Jeter and asked Jeter, Rodriguez and a few other Yankees to sign the jersey.
“Baseball wasn’t really the big part of the day,” Wells said. “It was to remember the 32, and [the Yankees] did just that. “
The Yankees and Hokies spoke on the field before the game.
A New York newspaper had reported that week about O’Brien, who had grown up in New York as a Red Sox fan because his parents were from Massachusetts. Then-Yankees coach and current Philadelphia Phillies coach Joe Girardi mentioned the article when he met O’Brien before the game.
“He came over and shook my hand before the game and said, ‘I can’t believe you’re a Red Sox fan,’” said O’Brien, who now lives in Blacksburg and is responsible for Atlantic Constructors sales for Roanoke. plugged. “He was a great guy. I will never root for Girardi either.”
Wells was the Hokies starting pitcher that day. He was assigned to pitch only the first inning – if he could last that entire inning, that is. After all, the Yankees’ top five hitters were Johnny Damon, Jeter, Bobby Abreu, Rodriguez and Jason Giambi.
The Yankees loaded the goals on a walk, O’Brien error and another walk. A fly sacrifice from Rodriguez won the first run. But Wells prompted Giambi to engage in double play, escaping additional damage.
“Seeing that training… and giving up an undeserved run, a pretty proud moment,” said Wells, who now lives in Blacksburg and works for Tech’s student affairs department. “It was like I pitched a full game. I was just grateful I got the first one.”
The lineup also included Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera.
“Every time I scanned somewhere there was a stallion,” Sosnoskie said.
Sosnoskie, a Pennsylvania Yankees fan, started off as a wide receiver for Tech.
“Every guy who came [to bat], I just had to take the opportunity to try and chat with them, “Sosnoskie said.” Each of them was willing to give me five seconds – ‘Good luck, kid.’ They were truly top notch to all of us. “
Sosnoskie is now a high school assistant coach and private baseball instructor in Maryland.
“Anytime a kid comes out on the Yankees… I will share with them how good the Yankees players were to us that day,” Sosnoskie said.
The Yankees won the game in seven innings 11-0. So, O’Brien, playing on first base, had the chance to chat with many base runners.
“Johnny Damon didn’t realize they were coming and going the same day. He was asking where we were going that night,” O’Brien said.
Hacker, who was playing in second place, was also able to chat with the base runners.
“Every guy who came in second was blown away by the atmosphere, the people and the camaraderie of the college game,” Hacker said. “The energy in the stadium was pretty neat. All the guys who came in second were in awe of that.”
Hacker liked to share the same ground as the Yankees.
“Playing varsity baseball is a huge accomplishment, but… feeling like you were in a big league game… was pretty special,” he said.
In the fourth inning, most of the Yankees’ starters came out of the lineup. But instead of heading for the New York canoe, Rodriguez walked over and sat in the Hokies canoe.
He stayed there for three innings, signing autographs and chatting with the Hokies.
“He played a little trivia game on A-Rod,” Wells said. “He brought some souvenirs to give – bats, batting gloves, hats – and asked different questions about the milestones he had achieved.”
The Yankees and Hokies mingled after the game. Jeter gave O’Brien his batting gloves. Damon asked Wells what it was like watching a game at Lane Stadium.
Wells got a bracelet from Rodriguez and some batting gloves from Damon.
“[The Yankees] were kind of like kids that day, enjoying the surroundings, hugging Blacksburg, ”Wells said.
Wells grew up in Northern Virginia for the Atlanta Braves, then moved on to the Washington Nationals. But since this exhibition match?
“Forever a Yankees fan,” Wells said.