Ojeda pitching through his pain His first step back comes against O's BASEBALL

August 09, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

Bob Ojeda's pitching line against the Orioles Saturday night was unspectacular -- two innings, four hits, two runs. But it also was unimportant.

What counted was that Ojeda -- the only survivor of a spring-training boating accident that killed teammates Steve Olin and Tim Crews -- was back, that somehow he managed to throw the ball with reasonable accuracy and that his first game with the Cleveland Indians was behind him.

"The one thing was . . ." Ojeda said at the start of a post-game news conference. He paused, looked at Indians general manager John Hart seated to his left, and couldn't continue.

Looking around the room, Ojeda asked no one in particular: "Say something funny [to break the ice]."

It was difficult to tell what was more difficult for Ojeda -- pitching in his first game since the accident, or talking about it. "That one," he said in a halting voice, "was for the guys [Olin and Crews]."

On March 22, Ojeda lost his two friends and nearly his own life. What was supposed to be an evening fishing excursion to cap the only day off in spring training became a tragedy. Ojeda isolated himself from family and friends, and was uncertain about pitching again.

Encouraged by Patti Olin and Laurie Crews, the widows of his teammates, Ojeda embarked on a physical and mental rehabilitation program that included arthroscopic surgery to repair a shoulder injured before the accident and a week of psychiatric treatment in Baltimore to help him deal with stress.

Finally, Saturday night was deemed the time for Ojeda to be activated and used in a game.

"When I was here, I read in the newspapers that I was getting psychiatric help -- and a week later I was pitching to those guys [the Orioles]. I wonder what they thought about when they read that," Ojeda said.

What the Orioles thought was at first personal, but ultimately professional.

"I was glad to see him back," said Brady Anderson, the first batter to face Ojeda. "I want to see him do well, but once you get into the batter's box. . . . "

Mark McLemore was standing in the on-deck circle when Ojeda entered. "When I saw him come in, I was happy for him that he was back," said McLemore, who got the second of his four hits off Ojeda. "But once he was in the game, I didn't think about it."

Manager Johnny Oates said: "I can't imagine what it's been like for him, and I hope that I never have to deal with it.

"I thought our fans did a good job of welcoming him. And I thought it was nice that he acknowledged them."

As Ojeda made his way to the pitching mound, the crowd of 46,424 rose to give him a standing ovation. "The people were great," said Ojeda, who raised his glove over his head in response.

"I couldn't really pay attention, because I would have lost it out there. But I really appreciate it."

Ojeda was asked if it was easier making his debut on the road.

"No," he said, "the people of Cleveland have been tremendous. People all over have been.

"Hopefully, I can work up to a start by the time we get home. I owe it to them [Cleveland fans]. I owe it to a lot of people . . ."

"One thing I've learned," said Ojeda, "is that you've got to face it, keep going forward and not hide from it."

When he was done talking to the press, Ojeda headed back to the team hotel. The first day of his comeback was not yet complete.

He had a couple of phone calls to make -- to Laurie Crews and Patti Olin.

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