ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The exclusive fraternity of major-league baseball players took a double hit yesterday, and there were reverberations felt throughout Florida and Arizona. The deaths of Cleveland pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews in a boating accident left the Orioles in a state of shock and dismay.
Their scheduled exhibition game against the Indians was canceled, and instead the Orioles worked their way through an intrasquad game. There was a work schedule to be kept, but the intensity was the lowest it's been all spring.
Though few Orioles knew Olin and Crews other than as competitors, you could sense a feeling of loss. The usual, early-morning clubhouse banter was absent. Players wandered aimlessly to their assigned stations as the workout began.
It would be a long day -- stretching until 3:50 p.m. -- and when the Orioles left the field, their faces reflected a different kind of weariness.
"This [the workout plus intrasquad game] was not a good way to get our work done under any conditions," said manager Johnny Oates. "With a tragedy like this, it's much worse.
"It shows you how precious life is, and how short it can be."
Oates was informed of the accident by general manager Roland Hemond at 6 a.m. yesterday. "That's when I get my wake-up call every day," said Oates, "and that's what I thought it was when Roland called to tell me about the accident and that the game had been canceled."
"It really hits home," said shortstop Cal Ripken. "You don't really get to know [opposing] players except as opponents. But we [baseball players] are something like a family.
"People sometimes have this perception that we're immune to these kind of things, but we're not. Something like this really hits hard. It really affects you."
Of all the players, left-hander Jim Poole probably had the closest relationship with the victims. Crews was with the Dodgers when Poole joined them in 1990.
"When I got to the big leagues, he was one of the guys who made me feel comfortable," said Poole. "He came up to me and told me to relax. He taught me things that I had never learned in the minor leagues.
"And his wife went out of her way to make my wife feel very comfortable," said Poole. "For that, I'll always be grateful."
Yesterday's tragedy undoubtedly hit closest to home for Orioles coaches Jerry Narron and Mike Ferraro. Both were with the Yankees, Narron as a player, Ferraro as a coach, when Thurman Munson was killed in an airplane crash Aug. 2, 1979.
"When you're with people you see every day, it's a lot like a family," said Narron. "And when something like this happens, it's like losing a member of your own family.
"I can tell you, there's going to be a void with that club [the Indians] that will not be filled for a long time, and I feel very bad for them," said Narron.
"When you're around people who are healthy and prosperous, you don't expect the worst," said Ferraro. "I'm sure this was as big a shock to the Indians as Thurman's death was to the Yankees.
"They're still getting used to each other -- Crews had just joined them. The Yankees had been successful together for a few years and were a pretty close team."
Hemond, who with Oates and public relations director Rick Vaughn will represent the Orioles at a memorial service for Olin and Crews tonight in Winter Haven, first heard of the accident late Monday night.
"I was getting ready to go to bed and watching 'SportsCenter' on ESPN," said Hemond. "They said they'd have an update at 2:30 [a.m.], and I couldn't sleep."
It wasn't until 9:15 a.m. that Hemond was able to reach Cleveland general manager John Hart, a former Orioles third-base coach, and express his condolences. "It's a nightmare, a real tragedy," said Hemond.