Thursday, March 20, 2003

Tragedy still haunts Indians


10 years later, player deaths stir emotion

By Tom Withers
The 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 built overlooking Little Lake Nellie.

It's just as it was March 22, 1993, when a relaxing day of laughter, friendship and family turned to horror as Cleveland Indians pitchers Crews, 31, and Steve Olin, 27, were killed in a boating accident. A third pitcher, Bob Ojeda, barely survived.

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

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 Feb. 17.

"It has certainly brought back all the bad feelings," Hargrove said.

Outing turns tragic

The Indians, then still two years from getting to the World Series for the first time since 1954, had been given March 22 off.

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 enjoyed a day of horseback riding and swimming along with Ojeda and strength coach Fernando Montes.

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

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 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, the boat smashed into a neighbor's dock.

Olin died instantly from head and chest injuries. Crews, a father of three, was airlifted to a hospital where he died at 6 a.m. the next day. Ojeda suffered severe injuries to his scalp but lived, only because he was slouching in his seat.

Team left scarred

Hargrove and his wife, Sharon, tried to keep the Indians and their families together emotionally. But the pain was too deep, and it would be a long time before the team could move on.

"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 ... "

In their memory, the Indians planted two oak trees just beyond the center-field wall near of one of the team's minor-league fields at their training complex in Winter Haven, Fla. A dedication plaque is also there.

The trees will be ringed with flowers for Saturday's anniversary, and the Indians will observe a moment of silence before playing the Detroit Tigers.

The Indians of 1993 will never forget what happened.

"I was real young when it happened," said Philadelphia first baseman Jim Thome, who was in his first full season with Indians in '93. "It was a shock throughout the organization, we all felt it. Those were great guys.

"I always remember it. It doesn't go away."




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