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Fernandez's boating death brings back memories of Tim Crews tragedy

Cleveland Indians manager Mike Hargrove, right, pauses with his team for a moment of silence in this 1994 photo for Indians pitchers Tim Crews and Steve Olin. The two men died from injuries in a central Florida boating accident. [AP, 1994]

Cleveland Indians manager Mike Hargrove, right, pauses with his team for a moment of silence in this 1994 photo for Indians pitchers Tim Crews and Steve Olin. The two men died from injuries in a central Florida boating accident. [AP, 1994]

The reaction was sadly familiar for Mike Hargrove when he heard Miami Marlins ace pitcher Jose Fernandez had died in a boating crash — disbelief.

It took Hargrove back more than 20 years, to a boating accident west of Orlando that killed two pitchers and injured a third on the team he managed at the time, the Cleveland Indians. It shook the baseball community in a way reminiscent of Fernandez's death early Sunday.

"It certainly brings back some emotions and memories that have been buried for awhile," Hargrove, 66, said Sunday from an Indians baseball game against the Chicago White Sox.

It was on March 22, 1993, that Tim Crews, a Tampa native and C. Leon King High School graduate, had teammates and their families over to picnic at his Clermont ranch on a day off from spring training in Winter Haven. That evening, Crews took Steve Olin and Bob Ojeda out for a spin in his boat on Little Lake Nellie.

It was a moonless night, according to news reports at the time. Investigators said the players didn't see the dock jutting more than 150 feet into the lake. The boat slammed into it, killing Olin instantly. Crews died the next morning at a hospital. Ojeda barely survived after suffering severe injuries to his scalp.

Hargrove was just sitting down with friends to a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs at his Winter Haven apartment when the phone rang. It was Fernando Montes, the team's strength and conditioning coach who was at the ranch that day. Olin was gone, he told Hargrove.

"My first reaction was, 'Where'd he go?' I thought he left camp for some reason," he said. "Then he (Montes) said, 'No. He's dead.'"

The news came with a well of grief that Hargrove processed with prayer, he said. He prayed on the drive from Winter Haven to the ranch. He prayed extra hard for the players' wives and young children. He prayed reaching for the doorknob to enter a team meeting the next morning, having no idea what to say to a room full of 53 heartbroken athletes.

But there, sharing their feelings and memories, is where the healing began, he said.

"There was just a deep, deep sadness," said Hargrove, now an advisor to the Indians' president. "But also a feeling of, maybe, brotherhood in that meeting we were all in together. That's how we were going to get through it — by staying in it together."

It took years, he said, but those on the team eventually got to the point where they could focus on the game again while still honoring the ones they lost.

That's all he can hope for the people who loved Fernandez.

"My heart absolutely goes out to the players ... who have to deal with this and put in perspective," he said.

Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 445-4157 or kvarn@tampabay.com. Follow @kathrynvarn.

Fernandez's boating death brings back memories of Tim Crews tragedy 09/25/16 [Last modified: Sunday, September 25, 2016 5:12pm]
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