BLACKSBURG, Va. – Rows and rows of people gathered under the stars Friday night at Virginia Tech. For the first time since Monday, the sea of maroon and orange was not there to cry.

Some did, but almost every one of the 3,132 people packed into English Field was there to cheer.

The biggest crowd ever to watch a baseball game at Virginia Tech acted like, well, a bunch of folks watching a baseball game.

They laughed. They chanted. They danced a little to the music between innings. They were 20-deep at the undermanned hot dog stand. And that’s why, four days after 32 people were shot and killed by a gunman on this campus, school officials decided to play the game – the first sporting event here since the tragedy. “I’ve seen people that have been crying all week smiling tonight for the first time,” said Bill Roth, the radio voice of Hokies athletics for 20 years. “What more is there to say? This is a good thing.”

The game between Tech and conference rival Miami began beneath a blue, nearly cloudless sky.

Before the game, the visiting Hurricanes handed over a check for $10,000 to go toward a fund for victims’ families.

A 32-second moment of silence was observed, followed by a loudspeaker rendition of the now-famous “We are Virginia Tech” speech made Tuesday by resident poet Nikki Giovanni. Players wore one black sock, wrote “4-16-07” on their hats and wore uniform patches that said “VT REMEMBERS.”

Beyond that, though, it was just another night at the ballpark – for which many mourners were thankful. “It’s such a festive atmosphere, it’s nice,” said Julie Yonce, who drove from Richmond with her husband for the game. “The only thing that’s going to get everybody back is doing these sorts of things: normal, secondary, distracting things. This is the first time all week I haven’t cried. And that’s a relief.” Julie and Charlie Yonce both graduated from Tech, as did their oldest son.

Their daughter Stephanie is a senior here. “This hit us hard,” Charlie said. “I just had to be here. We needed this.”

It didn’t matter that the Hokies lost, 11-9. There was plenty of action to block Monday out – if only for three hours. When the team tied the game 1-1 in the bottom of the second inning, a roar of “Let’s go, Hokies!” rolled through the fans who packed the stands and those who spilled over onto the grassy hill down the left-field line.

The shouting swelled again in the eighth inning, when a bases-loaded double pulled Tech within striking distance. “There aren’t textbooks to tell you what to do … You just try to do what you think is right,” athletic director Jim Weaver said. “When I look at the fans … to see all the people and to have the beautiful night, it seems right.”

And it almost came with a Hollywood ending. With a runner on base and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Warren Schaeffer hit what looked like a game-tying home run that electrified the stands.

Miami’s left fielder leaped at the wall and pulled the near-heroic hit back into his glove.

“It was unfair. That’s exactly what that was,” Schaeffer said. But then he broke into a smile. “That was secondary, man. Even on an emotional ending like that, it doesn’t even compare to the importance of this day.”

The impact became clear during the seventh-inning stretch, in one of the game’s few sobering moments. A song, written by the brother of Hokies center fielder Nate Parks this week, poured over the people:

We wonder where the future lies, As we look up to Heaven with hope in our eyes.

Where do we go from here?

God send your mercy this way, We’re all Hokies today.

“He did beautifully. Music, that’s his escape from all this,” Nate said of his brother Kurtis, a 2003 Tech grad. “Mine is here on the baseball field. We’re all trying to get back to something normal. “We had a little time to heal, and even though the scab is still there, it was therapeutic to get out here again.”

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