|Pitching in Anaheim, with his heart in Blacksburg|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 21 April 2007 09:33|
He wore the cap when he was playing at Virginia Tech. Now he was in the major leagues, pitching for the Los Angeles Angels, but his heart was in Blacksburg.
Saunders, the only former Hokie currently in the majors, wrote ``VT'' on his cleats and scribbled ``Virginia Tech'' in the dirt on the mound.
``I think somebody upstairs was looking after me, and everybody in Blacksburg was looking after me,'' he said after Friday night's 8-4 victory over the Seattle Mariners. ``My heart was out to them.''
``I was really nervous coming in - just the sheer fact of knowing what the game meant to me, to all the Hokie Nation out there in Virginia, to my family, and to this team because we needed to win,'' he added. ``There was a lot riding on it.''
Saunders, drafted by the Angels out of Virginia Tech in 2002, said the memory of the deaths of the 32 victims in Monday's shooting will always be with him.
``My mother and father and my uncle went there. The family's got a lot of history there. I spent the best three years of my life there,'' he said. ``So this was special.''
During a moment of silence before the game, Saunders seemed near tears. Commissioner Bud Selig had given him permission to wear the school cap.
``I can't thank him enough for that,'' Saunders said.
Saunders pitched six scoreless innings and stopped the Angels' six-game losing streak. He gave up seven hits and pitched out of trouble. He had some help in the field, with line drives to first base setting up double plays in the second and third innings.
``This was a tough week for Joe, and understandably so,'' Anaheim manager Mike Scioscia said. ``As traumatic as it is for all of us to see what happened, it hasn't affected all of our families. He was connected with that school, with that campus.
``He was shaken, but he wanted to pitch and he knew that his wearing the hat would be a symbol to show everyone his sentiments for that school. It was a great touch. Joe's a classy guy and he pitched great under the circumstances.''
Seattle's Richie Sexson agreed.
``It's got to be tough for him, having gone to school there. He's got a heavy heart, I'm sure, but he did a good job and battled through it,'' Sexson said.
Saunders, finally able to smile, was surprised the Virginia Tech cap fit just right after all this time.
``I'm going to sign it and give it to my dad,'' he said.