Ojeda, Hargrove thank Baltimore for its compassion

John Steadman

August 25, 1993|By John Steadman

Emotion swept the stands. It was a memorable moment, yet sensitive. Time for sadness, of remembering the past and relating in a deeply personal way to a man walking to the pitcher's mound. Bobby Ojeda was back in a physical sense. But he would never be free of the torment, the painful recollections of a spring training evening when a fishing boat hit a pier with whiplash devastation.

Two teammates died. Bobby Ojeda lived and fought the good fight. He thinks and prays often for Steve Olin and Tim Crews. He wonders what grand plan the "Master Manager" of the universe has in store for him -- that he, although seriously injured, should survive and be able to play baseball again.

The Cleveland Indians were facing the Baltimore Orioles on Aug. 7 and Ojeda came in from the bullpen. It was his first time back and he didn't know what to expect. Kind of a trial run, staged to get him reacquainted to the feel of a competitive environment.

But, of course, he would be on his own. Pitchers always are. Suddenly, from the grandstand, the sky boxes and the bleachers came a spontaneous roar of endorsement, of encouragement, of reaching out to tell a man he was not alone in this comeback mission. Cheers were unrelenting and comforting.

This was all happening in Baltimore, not Cleveland, where an ovation evolved that he will never forget. Even after all the games have been played, and a career has concluded, this will be a treasured recollection, one he'll retain for as long as there's an ability to examine the past and assess the good and the bad . . . the joy and the sorrow.

And now Bobby Ojeda has written what he calls "An Open Letter To The Fans Of Baltimore." What he didn't know is his manager, Mike Hargrove, also had composed a similar message of thanks and sent it to the Orioles. It's a rare occurrence when athletes react in such a fashion, offering appreciation to a city where they only come to visit and try to beat the home team.

Their words, indeed, make for extraordinary reading -- expressing a profound gratitude for how the public received them with such collective consideration. It moved into their hearts and souls at a critical time. Ojeda wants Baltimore to know how he feels and his written comments, in their entirety, follow:

This letter is not only overdue but it simply cannot capture what the night of Saturday, Aug. 7, meant to me. I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation for the reception you gave me when I took the mound. I was overwhelmed by the warmth and compassion that greeted me as I entered the field.

VTC I will tell you it was the longest and most difficult walk of my life and without your help I would not have made it. On behalf of Steve, Tim and our families, I thank you for the ovation.

Your city and ballpark will forever hold a special place in my heart. Thank you again.

Bobby Ojeda.

P.S. -- Never quit.

Earlier, Hargrove addressed a letter to what he referred to as "The Entire Baltimore Organization & Fans." It delivered the following sentiments:

This note is just to thank each and everyone of you for the support your entire organization and city gave Bobby Ojeda on his remarkable and special comeback appearance. A standing ovation would have been a given at home but to have received one on the road is so remarkable.

Thanks for recognizing the importance and impact of this big step in his life. It meant a lot to all of us. Thanks for caring. In sincere appreciation.

Sharon and Mike Hargrove.

There are times when the faces in the stands don't seem to understand that the men performing before them, be they representative of the home team or from someplace else, are not robots. They have human needs, to be cared for and respected, regardless of the measure of their performances or the uniforms they might be wearing.

Baltimore, in an exemplary demonstration of empathy and respect, wrapped its arms around Bobby Ojeda, engulfed him with good wishes, and provided a lift when it was needed.

A city never looked so good as when its fandom let a player trying to put his troubles behind him know that throwing a baseball again was an achievement that transcended a win and a loss or any provincial considerations.

Bobby Ojeda didn't take it for granted and that, too, is indicative of the best of the human spirit.

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