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TRIBE TRAGEDY A decade passes, but pain remains



Published: Tue, March 25, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Tim Crews and Bob Ojeda lost their lives in a boating accident 10 years ago.

By TOM WITHERS

ASSOCIATED PRESS

CLERMONT, Fla. -- A real estate agent's sign marks the entrance to Autumn Road, a winding dirt path leading to the ranch Tim Crews had built overlooking Little Lake Nellie.

Chestnut-colored horses graze on a hill next to the lake, which except for new homes on its shores hasn't changed much in the past decade.

On this sunny afternoon, Nellie is quiet. Only a bass splashing the surface and the distant whir of a lawnmower break the silence.

It's just as it was on March 22, 1993, when a relaxing day of laughter, friendship and family turned to horror when Cleveland Indians pitchers Crews and Steve Olin were killed in a boating accident.

A third pitcher, Bob Ojeda, barely survived.

The approach of the 10th anniversary of the crash awakened painful memories for those who lived through a spring when baseball's eternal hope was darkened by death.

"It's something that you never forget," said catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., now with the Chicago White Sox. "It was unbelievable."

Former Indians manager Mike Hargrove has never shaken the tragedy.

"I relive 10 years ago three or four times a year," said Hargrove, who wrestled with similar emotions as Baltimore's manager when pitching prospect Steve Bechler died of heatstroke on Feb. 17.

"It has certainly brought back all the bad feelings."

Team had the day off

Hargrove had given the Indians the day off that March 22. They wouldn't take another one during spring training for the next seven years.

In his first year with the Indians after coming over from the Los Angeles Dodgers, Crews invited some of his new teammates and their families to a picnic at his sprawling ranch, which according to neighbors has been put on the market by his widow, Laurie.

Olin, his wife, Patti, and their three children, along with Ojeda and strength coach Fernando Montes, spent the day horseback riding and swimming.

Second baseman Carlos Baerga couldn't attend.

"I was supposed to go to that party," said Baerga, trying to win a job with Arizona this spring. "Maybe it would have been me that day. I had to pick up my family at the airport at that time, so God maybe did that for a reason. I got lucky."

So did Montes.

With evening approaching, Crews asked his friends to go out for a spin in his boat and to do some fishing. Olin, Ojeda and Montes had joined Crews on board when the group realized they had left some gear behind.

Someone had to retrieve it, so the men played the children's game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Montes lost, and went in search of the gear as the boat launched.

Crews, who was driving, circled the lake and signaled to a friend who had joined Montes ashore that he was going to make one more trip around.

Seconds later, at the moment Crews hit the throttle, the boat smashed into a neighbor's dock.

Montes was the first to the scene.

Olin died instantly

Olin died instantly from head and chest injuries. Crews, the father of three, was airlifted to a hospital where he died early the next day. Ojeda had severe injuries to his scalp but lived, only because he was slouching in his seat.

The emotional scars are still there for Ojeda, now a pitching coach in the New York Mets' organization. He hasn't spoken publicly about the tragedy since August 1993.

Investigators later determined that Crews had a blood alcohol level of 0.14 percent, over the state legal limit of 0.10 percent.

"We had been drinking," Montes said. "But I also saw someone through the course of the day who was in charge of his senses and who was not drunk."

Some of the Indians players didn't learn about the accident until the following morning.

"It was chaos in the ballpark. Everybody was crying," Alomar said.

Hargrove and his wife, Sharon, did all they could to keep the Indians and their families together emotionally.

"It changed the whole team, the whole chemistry," Alomar said. "We never recovered because of the way it happened. Three guys, in a boat on a day off."

Olin had come up through the Indians' farm system, and the fun-loving, side-arming closer had become one of the team's most popular players.

"He was such a good kid, worked hard and had such a wonderful family," Cleveland bullpen coach Luis Isaac said. "That's the big loss. A team can go out and get another pitcher. He had twin daughters. They lost their daddy."

Wife struggled with loss

Patti Olin struggled with her loss.

She briefly lived in Cleveland following her husband's death, but found the memories too painful and moved. She remarried in 1996. At her wedding, Gary Olin, Steve's father, walked her down the aisle.

In the players' memory, the team planted two oak trees just beyond the center-field wall near of one of the team's minor league fields in Winter Haven.

The trees were ringed with flowers for today's anniversary, and the Indians observed a moment of silence before playing the Detroit Tigers.




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