A year later, Indians still trying to cope with boat accident aftermath

BASEBALL

March 20, 1994|By JIM HENNEMAN

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- There will be no special observance at the Cleveland Indians' spring training camp in Winter Haven, Fla., on Tuesday. But everybody who was there a year ago will never forget the date.

That's when a boating accident claimed the lives of relief pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews and left Bob Ojeda severely injured and in a state of shock from which he's still trying to recover. March 22, 1993, was the only open date on the exhibition schedule for the Indians and several other major-league teams, including the Orioles.

Those two teams were scheduled to play in Winter Haven the next day, but the game was quickly canceled as news of the tragedy stunned baseball. By design or coincidence, the Indians do not have an open date on their exhibition schedule this year -- and the club is trying to balance feelings of respect with realities of life.

With new veteran players to blend with considerable young talent, the Indians are preparing to open a new stadium and begin play in a new division (Central) with more optimism than at any time in the past decade. The memories of a year ago remain, and the flags at Chain O' Lakes Park will fly at half-staff Tuesday, but the Indians will have no other public observances.

"Everyone here has to deal with it in their own way," said Indians general manager John Hart. "It's tough enough having to relive the day, each in our own way, without having a special day.

"As a human interest story, people are interested, and I understand them asking me questions about it. But, from an organization standpoint, it's not good for us to make a big deal of it. We have to move on.

"You follow your instincts and your heart -- it's very painful for everyone here. It comes to a point where you have to give it up."

The Indians were one of baseball's youngest teams a year ago, one with considerable potential. But things changed dramatically the day of the accident. From a team standpoint, the pitching staff was depleted, and from a personal standpoint, the deaths and injury left emotional baggage that was difficult for young adults to handle.

But the Indians seem to have survived, and are eager to push on, to regroup. "It's a new year," second baseman Carlos Baerga said. "That was last year, and we'll never forget about it. I know we miss them [Olin and Crews], and we hope their families are OK. But we have to play. We have to think about winning."

Last year's tragedy has not been without personal side effects. Once bonded by the tragic accident that took the lives of their husbands, Patti Olin and Laurie Crews have become somewhat estranged. And others have reacted adversely to the fact Crews' widow entered another relationship less than sixth months after the accident.

In a recent interview with the St. Petersburg Times, Laurie Crews likened her own situation to that of the Indians. "Grieving is a never-ending process," she said. "We'll remember Timmy on the day that he passed away, and we'll talk to the kids. But I'm not going to make it a sad thing. We're going on. Life's not perfect. I've got too much to do to worry about everybody else. I've got to worry about myself."

Through the yearlong ordeal, one person who has emerged as a powerful source of support is Sharon Hargrove, wife of Indians manager Mike Hargrove. She was a key figure in the first days after the accident and remains so today. And she feels many are being too harsh with Laurie Crews.

"People reacting to her [since the accident] has been harder than dealing with Tim's death," Sharon Hargrove said. "To me, if you find someone to fill the void, right or wrong, if it helps her get through the first year after she lost her husband, the father of her [three kids], her dreams, the whole thing in 30 seconds . . . you've hardly made a mistake.

"All the people that have always been there for her are now making it real tough for her. It's unfair. I'm not saying I'm 100 percent agreeing with the relationship, but I'd never stop calling her, stop being her friend. It's sad. Sadder than the accident."

There is also a sad irony to the tragic story. Olin and Crews, who was at the wheel of his boat, were killed when they hit a pier. A year later, the water line on Little Lake Nellie, site of the accident, has receded so far that it no longer reaches the end of the pier. The accident that took two lives a year ago Tuesday would not be possible today.

Being like Mike

Less than 10 miles from where Michael Jordan's every swing is documented, another two-sport player is attempting to start a baseball career in virtual anonymity.

His name is Damon Allen, and football fans in Baltimore could get to know him real soon. In the United States, Allen is probably better known as the brother of NFL running back Marcus Allen.

In Canada, however, Damon Allen has a reputation all his own -- as the Grey Cup Most Valuable Player quarterback for the Edmonton Eskimos. He also has a contract for the 1994 season that will pay him $500,000.

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