Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Tiger fan to the end...

I'm sorry to say that I did know someone who was killed at Virginia Tech the other day. Brian Bluhm, known as "estrepe" on the www.motowntigers.com message board which I frequent, was an avid Detroit Tiger fan in Blacksburg and always had insightful analysis on the Tigers. We shared many conversations over the last couple years on that board. I never met him in person, but I just am shocked right now that someone I was chatting with literally last week is now gone in such a tragedy.


Avid Tigers fan among the dead at Virginia Tech
Lynn Henning / The Detroit News

The Tigers were among those who lost a friend in Monday's horror at Virginia Tech. In their case, the friend, Brian Bluhm, was more like family.

Bluhm, 25, was to graduate in two weeks with a master's degree in civil engineering from Virginia Tech. He died Monday during a shooting rampage that took the lives of 31 other Virginia Tech students and faculty.

Tigers fans with an Internet connection knew Bluhm as a thoughtful and prolific writer who was a member of the Motownsports.com Web site. Bluhm, who lived in Troy as a child, had posted almost 35,000 times over the past five years -- most of them "game threads" in which fans engage in conversations about the latest game.

"The online community is hard for people to understand," said Alan Chichester, 26, from Swartz Creek, and an engineer for Consumers Energy who had been part of countless online chats with Bluhm. "But when it came to the Tigers, there was no one more passionate or more intelligent about the Tigers, and no greater guy, than Brian."

"When you're hanging on every pitch and every at-bat for multiple summers, you do grow close to these people." The Tigers chat-room family was worried Monday when word broke there had been mass shootings on the Blacksburg, Va., campus. Motownsports.com "posters" began flooding Bluhm with requests to report all was well.

Chichester left a message on Bluhm's dormitory phone. When a man who might post a dozen or more submissions in a given day, particularly during baseball season, failed to respond, the concern turned to dread. By late Monday night, word had been received by way of the MyPlace Web site niche occupied by his sister, Angela, that Brian was dead.

Dan Calabrese, a freelance writer from Grand Rapids, and another Motownsports.com regular, said Bluhm's passion and intellect were extraordinary. "I'm 40 and have followed the Tigers all my life, and I didn't know half what he did," said Calabrese, explaining that Bluhm had been pivotal in putting together a decade-by-decade Tigers Hall of Fame for the website. "He was not a casual fan -- he was a serious fan. He made a point of being deeply knowledgeable about everything that mattered to him."

Bluhm grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, before enrolling at Virginia Tech. His Tigers attachment mystifies even those who knew him intimately from the Web site chats, although it is believed that the 1980s Tigers, who would have been prominent at the time a young boy developed his love for baseball, best explained his affection.

Bluhm's last occasion to watch the Tigers play came last Wednesday at Camden Yards in Baltimore. His chat-room friends are left with the happy thought that Bluhm was on hand when Craig Monroe's 12th-inning grand slam gave Detroit the victory.

The Tigers had a moment of silence before their game Wednesday, for the victims at Virginia Tech and mentioned specfically "lifelong Tiger fan Brian Bluhm."

Those who knew him say his favorite player on the 2007 Tigers team was Curtis Granderson, who listed Bluhm No. 1 on his "friends" list on Granderson's My Space site. "He just loved the quiet, methodical, good players like Granderson," Chichester said Tuesday. "It probably fit Brian's personality a little bit. His favorite player of all time was Charlie Gehringer (late Tigers Hall of Fame second baseman). "Maybe," Chichester said with a pained whimper, "he got his chance yesterday to meet Charlie."

You can reach Lynn Henning at (313) 222-2472 or lynn.henning@detnews.com.

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