- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Last week we were a country divided by the heated debates over Don Imus and the Duke lacrosse players and the race issues surrounding both.

Yesterday, we had a uniting force — fear.

We screamed and shouted last week about the horrors of Imus’ racial and sexual insults and the injustice done to the Duke lacrosse players in the controversial rape case that never was.

But yesterday, all of us saw real horror and true injustice in Blacksburg, Va., on the campus of Virginia Tech, where a gunman killed 32 people in two random, separate shooting incidents, and then finally himself to bring the death toll to 33. It was the worst mass shooting in American history.

There was no race, no sex, no class. There was just fear. Fear of what had happened, fear of what could happen and the fear that all of us, no matter who we are or what we do, live by a fragile thread.

Yesterday, Washington Nationals manager Manny Acta had the same fears as the ushers working last night’s game against the Atlanta Braves at RFK Stadium, or the handful of people in the stands for the game and everyone else who called maybe a son or a daughter or some other family member to share the horror of Blacksburg and to hear the reassurance of the sound of the voice on the other end of the phone.

“This is why when people ask me if I am frustrated after a game about a certain play or player … how can I complain about a baseball team not winning as many ball games as we want when you see stuff like that,” Acta said as he watched the cable news reports from his office at RFK. “It is so much more important than missing a pop up or striking out. I see things like this and I think of young people without direction, and that frustrates me.”

That’s ironic, because a college campus is supposed to be a scene of young people with direction — not a killing field.

Just two years ago, Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was still walking around a college campus in Charlottesville, at Virginia, and traveled to Blacksburg to play Virginia Tech. Now he was making calls to friends in Blacksburg to see if they were all right.

“I know a lot of people there. But hopefully, from the people I’ve talked to, they are all right,” Zimmerman said. “Hopefully I’ll get some more information as the night goes on and tomorrow to make sure. I went there during this off season to watch a football game.

“It wasn’t too long ago I was at college,” he said. “I guess it can happen anywhere. It is unfortunate, and you really feel for the families and all the people who are affected by this.”

Everyone was affected by what happened at Virginia Tech yesterday in varying degrees of fear and outrage.

The Nationals’ Class A club, Potomac, was scheduled to play the Salem Avalanche in Salem, about half an hour from Blacksburg. That game was called off because of the shooting.

“The Salem Avalanche felt that playing baseball tonight would be a disservice to those who have lost loved ones, friends and acquaintances in the tragedy at Virginia Tech today,” Avalanche vice president John Katz said in a statement. “A moment of silence is not enough to honor these young men and women who have lost their lives in Blacksburg today.”

It was a strange, solemn evening at RFK last night, almost numb. The weather was brutal, cold and windy, and maybe 1,000 people were in the stands when the game began. They had a moment of silence before the game to honor the memory of those slain in Blacksburg.

There was a tribute to Jackie Robinson before the game, because the Nationals’ plans to do so with the rest of baseball Sunday, on the 60th anniversary of Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball, never took place because of Sunday’s rainout in New York.

Nationals’ first baseman Dmitri Young wore number 42 to honor Robinson and said he would “think about the spirit of Jackie Robinson up above looking down on me.”

Any celebration, particularly one that commemorated the triumph of the human spirit in the face of injustice, was muted by what had happened four-plus hours away in Virginia earlier in the day. There was no dividing line for sorrow yesterday.

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