Ojeda says he'll pitch 'to go forward' Indian talks about accident

June 26, 1993|By Sheldon Ocker | Sheldon Ocker,Knight-Ridder News Service

CLEVELAND -- Bobby Ojeda sat rigidly erect in the Cleveland Indians dugout, his eyes moving neither left nor right. The brim of his cap was as flat and stiff as a starched collar, and his uniform looked uncomfortably crisp and white.

He gave the appearance of being a fantasy camper who just paid $3,500 for the privilege of looking like a big-league player. But since March 22, Ojeda's life has been anything but a fantasy, and he only reluctantly considers the major leagues a desirable place for him to be.

A piece of Ojeda's scalp was torn away in the spring training boating accident that killed Indians pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews in Florida. Ojeda said he probably came within minutes of dying himself.

But he was alive. His friends were not. Suddenly, anything he thought or did seemed pointless. That was three months ago. Ojeda isn't a bundle of laughs these days, but he has decided to keep on truckin'.

"Why come back and pitch?" he said during a news conference at Cleveland Stadium yesterday. "I equate it with being knocked down and getting up again.

"I don't want to get up. I'd like to go to Montana and fish and raise buffalo. But this is what I need to do. I need to go forward, so that's what I'm doing."

Ojeda remembers everything about the fatal evening on Little Lake Nellie except the instant the fishing boat struck a dock that protruded almost 190 feet into the tiny body of water adjacent to the Crews property.

"I was never knocked out," Ojeda said. "The throttle was stuck at around 35. It was dark. In Florida, that's the way you fish for bass. It's what you do. We never saw the dock. We never had a chance. It was just an accident waiting to happen. That dock was sticking out into the water too damned far."

Ojeda has heard the reports that Crews, who was at the wheel of the boat, had a blood alcohol level of .17, well beyond the legal limit of .10 in Florida.

"Tim Crews was the safest boatsman I knew," Ojeda said. "I felt completely safe. I wish he could call me right now, because I'd go with him again.

"I know Tim. He could have done brain surgery. We're not choir boys. I'd never say that. But people want to understand why this happened, so they point to something and go on. But it just doesn't work like that."

Ojeda did not lose consciousness. He was bleeding badly and needed immediate care. The lake is relatively isolated, but an emergency medical unit arrived quickly.

"I knew they [Olin and Crews] were gone two seconds after we hit," Ojeda said. "I remember a lady yelling over to us and telling her we needed help. EMS got there in five minutes. If they hadn't, I would have bled to death. I didn't have a lot of time left."

In the hospital, according to Ojeda, "They put my head back on." That was the physical relief. Emotionally, the wound has not healed.

"I don't want sympathy," he said. "I don't want pity. What happened was nothing more or less than a tragic accident.

"I left the country for a while. I had a lot of money in my pocket and I wasn't going to come back. I went as far as Delta goes non-stop. I had to go through certain things alone."

A Delta representative said the farthest the airline flies from Los Angeles (Ojeda's home) without stopping is 7,249 miles to Hong Kong, 5,800 miles to Frankfurt and 5,400 miles to Tokyo.

Ojeda eventually returned home, but deciding to continue playing became another struggle.

"I just can't quit," Ojeda said. "That's my whole reason for coming back. Five years down the road, I might regret it if I quit."

Because of a shoulder injury, Ojeda didn't do any pitching in spring training, even before the accident.

The shoulder was repaired surgically April 27. Ojeda's arm is sound again, but he doesn't think playing baseball will be much fun anymore.

"I don't feel 35; I feel 85," he said. "I had surgery before, and I seemed to come back better than ever. And this operation wasn't as serious as some others. But there was always joy and happiness when I came back. There is no happiness now. It's just something I've got to do."

And what about the thrill of winning or throwing a shutout?

"Nothing I do from here on out on or off the field will feel the same," Ojeda said. "But that's just the way it goes.

"I've changed a lot. I'm a pretty good kidder, but I'm telling you the way I really feel. I get up, look in the mirror and say: 'You're here, pal. What are you going to do with the day?' There's none of that smelling the flowers. But I won't go to pieces, either. Anyone can do that."

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