Former Virginia Tech pitcher reflects on how the New York Yankees helped Hokies heal after 2007 mass shooting

Commonwealth Bowl Blitz

NEW YORK (WFXR) — When the Hokies take the field Wednesday afternoon in the Pinstripe Bowl, it’ll bring back some memories of when the New York Yankees helped Virginia Tech after a student opened fire on the Blacksburg campus in 2007, killing 32 people before turning the gun on himself.

The Virginia Tech football team’s trip to New York City this week began with the Hokies visiting the 9/11 Memorial, gaining perspective on one of the darkest days in the nation’s history.

In 2008, however, it was the Yankees who helped the Hokies out in the wake of one of the school’s toughest times. A simple gesture — a baseball game — linked Blacksburg with New York forever.

“It’s hard to ever really forget,” said former Virginia Tech pitcher Andrew Wells. “I was on campus with so many others and it was a pretty dramatic day.”

“I can say for myself, having been on campus in ’07 and the starting pitcher a year later in ’08, it’s a common conversation for me and it’s hard but I appreciate it because it kinda helps speak to the definition for me of being a Hokie,” Wells added.

In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting that left a total of 33 people dead and 17 people wounded on April 16, 2007, Wells knew that baseball would be part of the healing process.

“We kinda felt like we were part of that catalyst, part of that movement to bring the community together, to bring campus together. To provide everyone a distraction,” said Wells.

However, it was the New York Yankees who lent a hand when Blacksburg needed it the most.

“Steinbrenner, as we learned, reached out to our athletics department, again pretty quickly, and said, ‘Hey, we want to be part of this healing process, we’re going to send our guys to play your guys,'” explained Wells. “It’s hard to explain what it meant to me, but I recognized then and I can fully appreciate now, it wasn’t about me, it wasn’t about our baseball program. It was about this campus, this community.”

Less than a year after that dark day, the Yankees made the trip to the New River Valley in 2008 to visit the April 16 Memorial and play an exhibition against the Virginia Tech baseball team at English Field.

“I’ll never forget, toeing that rubber and I put my head down and as I looked up, it was me and Johnny Damon head to head,” said Wells.

Wells — a left handed pitcher — made the start of a lifetime that no other Hokie had ever done before.

“I faced in order Damon, Jeter, Abreu, A-Rod and Giambi and I gave up one unearned run so I left the mound that day feeling pretty good,” Wells recalled. “I felt like I pitched 20 innings, walking off after that one inning of work.”

The Yankees went on to win the seven inning contest 11-0, but everyone knew the day had very little to do with baseball.

“It was for the 32, and it was for the Hokies that we lost and for the tragic events that had taken place a year prior and just an incredible gesture on behalf of the Yankees,” Wells said. “That was the start of the Hokies-Yankees bond because they did step up, in a way that no one could have imagined…That day changed my life forever. Forever will be a Yankees fan.”

In honor of what the Yankees have done for Virginia Tech over the years, the Hokies will be wearing the New York Yankees’ logo on the side of their helmets at the Pinstripe Bowl, which starts at 2:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 29 at Yankee Stadium.

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