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Emotional Indians Can't Dispel the Chill From Stadium : Mourning: The widows of Crews and Olin are honored before a 9-1 loss to the Yankees in 36-degree weather.

April 06, 1993|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CLEVELAND — Monday was supposed to be the day the Cleveland Indians celebrated baseball again.

Monday, they bravely promised themselves, would be the day they put aside tragedy and began worrying only about games again.

That promise was broken before the first pitch.

Relief pitcher Kevin Wickander greeted Patti Olin behind home plate after the Indians had presented her the jersey of her late husband, Steve.

"Are you OK?" Wickander asked.

"Fine," she said. "Are you OK?"

"Sure, I'm OK," he said. "I've got a ballgame to play."

Then he tearfully collapsed into her arms.

Burdened by memories, exhausted by emotion, the Indians played their opening day game as if wearing ankle weights. They lost to the New York Yankees, 9-1, before 73,290 at Cleveland Stadium.

What was supposed to be an inspirational effort before the second-largest opening day crowd in American League history was, instead, a vivid reminder that this is a team still trying to cope.

The deaths of pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews in a boating accident March 22 were never far from the minds of the pitching staff, which gave up nine runs and 16 hits.

Charles Nagy, who won 17 games last season, gave up two home runs and seven runs in 5 2/3 innings. Wickander, who relieved him, immediately yielded a two-run double to Wade Boggs.

"There has been a lot of reality thrown at us lately," reliever Eric Plunk said in a somber clubhouse afterward. "I tried to push it all out today . . . but it hit me again."

Plunk nodded toward Olin's locker, which has been left intact in that cramped clubhouse, complete with his old uniform, jacket and T-shirts. The relievers have moved into the lockers surrounding it.

They have also decided, with Patti Olin's approval, to wear Olin's clothes in his memory.

Ted Power took the field Monday wearing Olin's belt. Others wore his old T-shirts with his number 31 scrawled across the back in magic marker.

Wickander wears Olin's favorite watch, which he said was given to him by Patti because "she wanted us to tick together forever."

Wickander added: "The whole day just brought back a lot of memories. It was a hurdle."

Those memories surfaced shortly before the game, when the wives and parents of Olin and Crews were escorted to home plate and given jerseys.

Afterward, the Indians stared at the sky and thrust up their thumbs.

"It was our signal to the guys in Heaven that everything was going to be OK," Power said.

Laurie Crews was particularly touched by the ceremony because her husband, Tim, who spent his entire major league career with the Dodgers, had not signed with the Indians until a couple of months ago.

"They brought us up here and are doing everything for us . . . and Tim didn't even pitch an inning for them," she said Monday morning. "If Tim were here, he would be saying, 'Why all this fuss for me? I'm just Timmy.' "

Laurie hopes to attend the Dodgers' home opener next week in Los Angeles, but she said she is not sure she is welcome.

"More than anything, Tim was a Dodger," she said. "But I don't know what the Dodgers think. I wish I would hear from them."

Fred Claire, Dodger vice president, said, "We just haven't made any plans yet."

Reminders of their lost teammates continued to haunt the Indians during the game, which was played in 36-degree weather. In the bullpen, where the relievers often used a heater to burn their names into a wooden post, Olin's name was still there from last season.

There will be other reminders in the next couple of weeks, when Bob Ojeda, the pitcher who survived the boating accident, returns. He still is recuperating from severe head cuts.

Dennis Cook, who gave up two runs in 1 1/3 innings, was one of several Indians who believes the entire team would come around if everyone simply stopped talking about the tragedy.

"What happened was terrible, but we're trying to move on and the media keeps bringing it up," he said. "We can't keep using what happened as an excuse."

Laurie Crews, however, knows the mourning is real.

"Our little one (Travis, 2) still doesn't understand what happened," she said softly. "He is still waiting for Daddy to come walking out of that church in his Dodger uniform, ready to play again."

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