Entire Yanks lineup will travel to VT
Majority of roster expected to participate as club honors victims
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees' Spring Training schedule normally limits their travel to Florida's highway system, but on Tuesday, they'll take perhaps their most meaningful and poignant trip of the season.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said on Thursday that the team plans to bring its entire starting lineup for a scheduled exhibition at Virginia Tech. New York agreed to schedule the game last season in the wake of the April 16 shootings on the campus, where 32 were killed and many more were wounded.
"I think it's a wonderful opportunity for our players to see that you don't take life for granted," Girardi said.
Immediately following the tragedy, Yankees principal owner George M. Steinbrenner pledged $1 million to the Virginia Tech "Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund." In addition, the Yankees wore special caps bearing the VT logo for a game at Yankee Stadium.
On Tuesday, they'll see those colors from across the diamond, boarding a morning flight to Virginia and playing a 3 p.m. ET exhibition at English Field in Blacksburg, Va., before returning to Tampa that evening.
"Mr. Steinbrenner cares about people," Girardi said. "He's always had a big heart, and he's always reached out to communities. I think it's a great thing for our club. We never know what's in store for tomorrow, so I think it's important that you give your greatest effort every day."
Yankees spokesman Jason Zillo said that plans are in the works to permit players to visit a memorial established for the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
The roster for the trip has not been finalized, but Girardi confirmed that right-hander Jeff Karstens will make the start against Virginia Tech.
Some veteran pitchers, like Mike Mussina and Mariano Rivera, will not make the trip for various reasons. But the Yankees will bring their "A" lineup, including team captain Derek Jeter, third baseman Alex Rodriguez, catcher Jorge Posada and the rest.
The additional travel should not affect the Yankees, Girardi said.
"Players are used to traveling," Girardi said. "We travel all year long, so I don't expect it to be anything out of the ordinary. I think it's a good thing, playing in some weather that's not so warm. We'll be doing that once we leave here, so I actually think this is beneficial for the ballclub."
Jeter said that all of the players he has spoken to have expressed enthusiasm.
"You look at what we do, and it's entertainment," Jeter said. "If we can at least raise some awareness and make people smile and enjoy themselves for a few hours, that's all that we really can do."
The Yankees have been credited as part of the healing process for New York City after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center, so the organization is familiar with tragedy.
On Thursday, Jeter mentioned the life lessons he learned from the 9/11 experience, hoping that his teammates will take a similar message from the Virginia Tech trip.
"It's something that I've realized," Jeter said. "I really had a new appreciation for life after [9/11]. 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 for us."
Virginia Tech will be the second college opponent this spring for the Yankees, who opened their exhibition schedule against the University of South Florida on Feb. 29. No matter who the competition is, Jeter said, at-bats are important as the Yankees gear up for Opening Day.
"It does mean something to us," Jeter said. "We're trying to get ready for the season. Guys are in game mode and they're trying to get their work in. I think everyone's taking it seriously, and you want to go out there and perform well."
Even with the change of venue and competition, Girardi said the Yankees plan to take the game seriously.
"I think our guys will go all out," Girardi said. "A baseball game is a baseball game, and obviously, we have a lot of respect for the Virginia Tech program. But we will play the game hard, and we will try to win."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.