Prior to the start of the Salem Avalanche's doubleheader against the Potomac Nationals on Tuesday, the crowd observed a period of silence which lasted precisely 32 seconds.
That chance for reflection was a tribute to the 32 victims of Monday's massacre at Virginia Tech University, 30 miles west of Salem in Blacksburg, Va.
While the entire nation watched in horror the footage from the college campus, where 32 students and professors were gunned down in the worst mass shooting incident in U.S. history, the Salem/Roanoke community was affected directly.
"In this town, my sense is that about 75 percent of the people are Virginia Tech boosters," said John Katz, who is in his second season as Salem's general manager. "If they didn't go to Tech, they may have kids who are there, or went there, or want to go there."
It was with this in mind that, as Monday's events unfolded, Katz made the call (with the full backing of both managers as well as the Carolina League president) to postpone that evening's game and reschedule it for Tuesday as a doubleheader with the already-scheduled 11 a.m. "student matinee" game.
"As the death toll went up and we understood how serious it was, I spoke with both managers," Katz said of how the decision was reached. "They sat in the clubhouse and watched and listened as students were being brought to Lewis-Gale Medical Center here in Salem and Roanoke Memorial, and they understood the impact it had on the community so they were 100 percent in support of the decision."
Lewis-Gale Medical Center, where three of the shooting victims were recovering, is such a key part of the community that the Avalanche's field bears its name. Many members of the team's game-day staff attend the 25,000-student university, including the club's assistant groundskeeper.
As the players and staff from both the Avalanche and Nationals toed the baselines before the start of the national anthem, the club's public address announcer shared these words on behalf of the club and community:
"It is at times like these when communities must join together in the face of tragedy and show a united strength and compassion for the victims and their families. As we prepare for today's game, the Salem Avalanche asks that you observe 32 seconds of silence and reflection as we give our thoughts to the 32 innocent victims and the family and friends that have been left behind."