100 Percent Cotten

May 20, 2007

I knew this time would be different. I had been to the Virginia Tech campus several times over the years. Blacksburg is one of those places that always seem a little like home. Friendly. Familiar. But this time was, somehow, not like the other times.

We got to English Field as batting practice was going on before game one of the recent three-game series between Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. The Hokies were taking their cuts. Tech had three games left in its season. There were not enough wins to make the ACC Tournament, so the Hokies would try to send their nine seniors off as the ones who also kept the Deacons from postseason play.

As we set up the broadcast booth a big lefthander was peppering the field with baseballs. Several had left the park over the right field fence. "Who is that guy?" we asked. "That's you guys," came the response.

And with a closer look, indeed it was Wake Forest - not Virginia Tech - taking batting practice. It was an honest mistake. The Demon Deacons had donned maroon shirts with Virginia Tech in orange across the chest to take their warm-ups. It was a gesture of support by the Deacs for the school that had endured the worst tragedy imaginable just a few weeks earlier.

For the moment, the Deacons were Hokies. Allan Dykstra looks even bigger in maroon.

It would have been easy, almost understandable even, for Virginia Tech to have mailed this series in. To altar its lineup. To make the weekend something about anything else but baseball. But getting back to normal is part of the healing. This would be about baseball alright. The Deacs would get the Hokies' best shot. That would be Tech's way of supporting the fallen.

The teams split the first two games. Wake won game one. Tech stormed back to take the second, leaving the Saturday finale to decide the series. If you follow Deacon baseball you know what happened. You could almost have predicted it.

Wake Forest took a big lead early and cruised into the ninth inning. The Deacons led 9-2 and were three outs away from winning the game and the series. Moments from earning a spot in the upcoming ACC Tournament to keep hope alive for a NCAA Tournament berth. But there were no ceremonial pinch hitters. And giving up, while never an option for any athlete worth his salt, was certainly not on the agenda in Blacksburg. Nothing but fight in the Hokies to the last out.

Second baseman Matt Hacker led off the Hokie 9th with a home run over the left field wall. Here we go - I thought. And there we went. With a resilient spirit, back came the Hokies. Nearly all the way back. Six Hokies crossed home plate to cut the Wake lead to 9-8 with the tying run on second and the potential game winning run at first. And not until senior Josh Ellis got Tech's Sean Ryan to bounce out for the third out of the inning could we exhale.

What a finish. What a beautiful finish.

Yes, Wake Forest won the game. But so did Virginia Tech. The Deacs won by scoring more runs. The Hokies won by the way they competed. And they reminded us all how to live - to give it everything you have until the last out, regardless of the score. That's how great things happen. And the Deacons taught us that even though Black and Gold are great colors, maroon isn't so bad.

And we are all Hokies.

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