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30 years later: Jim Donovan looks back on the tragic deaths of Cleveland Indians pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews

Both men were killed in a horrific boating accident on Florida's Little Lake Nellie. Their loss reverberated throughout the team, the city, and all of baseball.

CLEVELAND — March 22, 1993, in Winter Haven, Florida. The Cleveland Indians were being rewarded by manager Mike Hargrove for hard work with a day off, their only day off of spring training.

It should've been a day of rest and fun; it turned into the darkest day in Cleveland sports history. It was the day two Indians pitchers were killed and one other was critically injured, the result of a horrific boating accident.

Pitcher Tim Crews invited closer Steve Olin and starter Bob Ojeda — and their families — to his 170-acre ranch for a barbeque, some horseback riding, maybe even to throw a line in the water of Little Lake Nellie to fish. That evening, Crews took Olin and Ojeda out onto the lake to look for gators.

There was beer and vodka on the boat, and with nightfall upon them, Crews gunned the engine. At a high speed, he misjudged a 185-foot wooden pier, and crashed.

Olin was killed instantly; Crews died hours later. Ojeda suffered massive head injuries, but survived.

Credit: Associated Press
From left: Former Cleveland Indians pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews.

Indians strength coach Fernando Montes was also at the Crews ranch, but not on the boat. He heard the crash from the shoreline, and called Mike Hargrove and general manager John Hart to break the awful news.

The Indians were now dealing with much more than a young baseball team on the field. They were dealing with death.

"We grieve the loss of these two men, what they mean to us," Hart told the press the day after the accident. "Both had young families, young children. As an organization, their families are our largest and most important concern."

"[The] first concern as the whole organization is, 'What can we do for the Crews family and the Olin family?'" a distraught Hargrove added. "We'll get over this; I don't know about the Crews and Olin family."

Daylight came, and the accident scene was very specific. There was the boat, the pier, there was blood, and there were also families destroyed.

Steve Olin was survived by his wife Patti, a 3-year-old, and 7-month-old twins. Tim Crews left his wife Laurie and three children, and the Indians were left numb back in Winter Haven.

Could they even get back to playing baseball? Players drifted back into camp, two weeks away from heading north for the 162-game season. But it wasn't going to be easy.

"He was my best friend," reliever Kevin Wickander, through tears, said of Olin. "He was the best man at my wedding, and the reason that I am where I am today is because of him."

"As sad as it is, it's something that matures you as a person, helps you deal with the facts of life," fellow pitcher Ted Power noted, still stunned by the news.

"It's going to keep our team more together, you know, and love each other more," All-Star second baseman Carlos Baerga told 3News at the time. "We're going to play hard, you know, to try to win this year."

"Steve and Tim would want us to be strong for them," future Hall of Famer Jim Thome, still just a young 22-year-old third baseman, said. "We just have to play hard and, hopefully, we'll see what happens this year."

The Indians were now in the news every day, and every day brought Winter Haven another sad chapter. One afternoon, Olin's wife Patti appeared in front of the media.

"I know that he would not want me to just sit and mope, and he wouldn't want anybody to," Patti said of her late husband. "I'm just going to tell [our kids] what a great daddy he was and what a great husband he was."

Midweek, the Indians organized a memorial service for the victims. Every major league team that trained in Florida sent representatives, with Sparky Anderson, Tommy Lasorda, and a heartbroken Bob Feller among those in attendance. A Garth Brooks song, "The Dance," played in a teary-eyed auditorium.

"I could have missed the pain, but I'd have had to miss the dance."

The baseball season came, and in Cleveland and everywhere else the Indians played that year, there were moments of silence for the loss of Olin and Crews. Now, there were better times ahead for the Indians: Their new ballpark opened in 1994, and all of their young talent blossomed to become great players.

They were big-time winners, but even on their greatest night since the '50s — the night they clinched the Central Division at a roaring Jacobs Field in September 1995 — as they gathered in center field to raise their championship flag, that Garth Brooks song "The Dance" played again.

It had been a favorite of Olin's, and the Indians were in tears, remembering their teammates who weren't there.

The conclusion to the story was Tim Crews was legally intoxicated driving the boat. Two families were left without a husband and father, with Mike and Sharon Hargrove stepping in to help the pair's children as well as the remaining players. Bob Ojeda lived a haunted existence with constant flashbacks of the crash.

In a sad footnote, more tragedy came in November of 1993, when a third Indians pitcher — free agent Cliff Young — died in a car crash in Texas, leaving behind a wife and two sons. John Hart had been working to re-sign him, and invoked Olin and Crews once more when mourning Young's passing.

"I had that same heart-wrenching feeling of sorrow and helplessness," Hart told the Associated Press. "We are looking forward to calendar year 1993 going away. You just shake your head and you wonder, why is this happening?"

It was all supposed to be so different — just a day of fun. Instead, the darkest day in Cleveland sports, 30 years ago — the boating accident on Little Lake Nellie.

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