BLACKSBURG, Va. Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and the rest of the New York Yankees stood on the third-base line, caps over their hearts while they gazed toward the outfield.
As 32 oversized orange balloons were released into the air, the storied team in its famous pinstripes watched right along with Virginia Tech players, fans and family members of victims from last year's campus massacre.
And when the national anthem was finished and the players headed for their dugouts, it was time to play a game that was less about baseball than it was about healing.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi could feel it when 200 people were waiting as the team bus made its first stop at the memorial to 32 people slain last April, and in the first inning while Girardi was sitting in the stands with football coach Frank Beamer.
"A young lady came up to me and said her brother was one of the children killed, and her mother thanks us for being here," Girardi said. "That really hit me hard."
From beginning to end, the visit Yankees owner George Steinbrenner promised moments after seeing the tragedy unfolding on television last April 16 was one to remember.
The Yankees had made a $1 million contribution to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, created to cover grief counseling, memorials and other costs for the victims and their families after Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people in two campus buildings before committing suicide.
The Yankees presented the donation to school president Charles Steger last May in New York, but said the visit to Blacksburg was a key part of the assistance.
Rodriguez said starting out at the on-campus memorial was powerful.
"There are certain things that happen that are so devastating that time stops," he said, comparing the shootings to the terrorists attacks in 2001. "For me, this is one of them. This is probably the proudest day I've ever (had) to wear a Yankee uniform."
Hearing that, Hokies coach Pete Hughes said, "knocks you on your heels."
Girardi looked at the 32 stones at the memorial and thought of the parents.
"To think of the anxious moments of all the parents who had students here and especially the ones who lost loved ones, how difficult that must have been," he said.
UNION WILL EXAMINE WHY NO BONDS OFFERS: The lack of offers to Barry Bonds will be examined by the baseball players' association as part of its annual review of the free-agent market.
Less than two weeks before opening day, the 43-year-old home run king remains unsigned.
"He's in playing shape right now. He just hasn't hit off live pitching," Bonds' agent, Jeff Borris, said Tuesday. "I've had conversations with Barry. It would probably take him about two weeks to get ready."
Bonds was indicted in November on four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice, charges stemming from 2003 grand jury testimony in which he denied knowingly using illegal performance-enhancing drugs. The seven-time NL MVP pleaded not guilty.
Tampa Bay acknowledged last month that it had internal discussions about the prospect of pursuing Bonds. St. Louis manager Tony La Russa had interest in Bonds but Cardinals management decided against opening talks.
Borris said Bonds was working out in the Los Angeles area. He wouldn't comment on the status of any negotiations.
"He wants to play," Borris said.
After speaking with the Los Angeles Angels during his annual tour of spring-training camps, union head Donald Fehr said his staff will examine possible collusion against Bonds and others.
"We always look at the free-agent markets every year and make judgments about them, and if we come to the conclusion with respect to any player that there's a matter worth pursuing, we'll pursue it," he said. "But I'm not going to make any suggestions or accusations unless and until we come to that conclusion."
Fehr wouldn't say whether he found it troublesome that no team has publicly said it wants Bonds.
"I haven't talked to him about it or his agents and I don't want to comment personally about it since I haven't had the opportunity to do that," he said.
Bonds hit .276 last year with 28 homers, 66 RBIs and a major league-leading 132 walks. He made $19.3 million, and the Giants decided to let him go after 15 seasons in San Francisco.
PARK STILL UPSET OVER INCIDENT IN CHINA: Dodgers pitcher Chan Ho Park was still upset Tuesday about an incident in Beijing over the weekend in which he was kept from signing autographs for a throng of Korean fans.
Chinese security forces refused to let Park through to his fans after pitching in Saturday's exhibition game between Los Angeles and the San Diego Padres.
"It was hundreds of Korean people, young kids who go to school in China and those who came a long way to watch the game and then wait a couple hours to get my autograph," said Park, a sports hero in his native South Korea. "For me, it's important to make the Korean people happy."
DICE-K TO START RED SOX OPENER: Japanese right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka will start the Boston Red Sox's regular-season opener against the Oakland Athletics in Toyko on March 25.
"I think that will be a ton of excitement," Boston manager Terry Francona said before Monday's exhibition game against the New York Yankees. "I know he's honored."