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Baseball family comes together to mourn its two lost brothers


WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- The blue sign was only feet from th left-field fence. "Memorial Services," it read, and an arrow pointed the way. Direction? All of baseball was searching for direction last night.

The arrow pointing in this unneeded direction was to the "Cultural Center" of the Chain of Lakes Convention Center, just feet from the Orange Dome and the little ballpark. Inside was a large and plain wooden cross, a portrait on one side of Tim Crews and a portrait on the other side of Steve Olin, both in their Indians uniforms. Candelabra. Many flowers. Stark. Plain. Beautiful. Touching. But so final.

The night was muted, but still not the pain. Quietly, baseball filed inside. No words were spoken. Many hugs and many embraces were given. Baseball has no sudden death; now baseball must cope with sudden deaths in the aftermath of Monday's boating accident that left Crews and Olin dead and teammate Bobby Ojeda injured.

The muted voices asked that no cameras, no TV cameras, no microphones, no pens, no notebooks be taken inside. Earlier, Andre Thornton had said, "Right now there is no comfort available." So true. But perhaps presence could soothe, the presence of so much of baseball.

Bob Feller was one of the first to sit down, some 45 minutes before the service. Not long after, in came Frank Malzone of the Boston Red Sox, and then Tommy Lasorda, Orel Hershiser and so many of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ex-Dodgers, too, John Tudor down from Boston, Alejandro Pena with his arm in a sling, now with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but one who knew Tim Crews so well, and then Kirk Gibson along with Sparky Anderson.

Former Cleveland Indians, too. Doug Jones and Chris James, now with the Houston Astros; Scott Bailes and Dave Otto, and Buck Showalter and Gene Michael of the New York Yankees; manager Johnny Oates and GM Roland Hemond of the Orioles; league presidents Bobby Brown and Bill White; Donald Fehr of the players association; Mike Maddux and Jeff Innis of the New York Mets; Frank Robinson ... baseball now and then. All grieving.

"I didn't know them," said Innis, not as well as the Mets' Sid Fernandez and John Franco, who had visited Ojeda earlier in the day, "but I had to come because Tim was a blue-collar pitcher and I can relate to that."

Those words were given afterward. Just as Indians manager Mike Hargrove had given words earlier, about how so much now reminds him of his dead pitchers, seeing "Ted Power, Kevin Wickander, Charlie Nagy, Chief Wahoo, pitchers on the mound. Guys working in the bullpen. My son."

All reminders of Steve Olin and Tim Crews.

The Indians were supposed to be the last to file in. They came with wives and some with wives and children, but they weren't the last. No, no. Long after the 500 seats in the little amphitheater were filled, baseball kept coming, standing five and six deep in the rear, and when the rear was filled, squeezing into hallways and back rooms. Straining to hear every word.

Thornton, the former Cleveland slugger and now an elder in a Cleveland church, was chosen to speak because he is a man of God, yes, but also because he had lost his wife and child in an accident. Thornton opened the service, and then Lasorda, the Dodgers manager, took to the podium and said if all were honest, all would have to admit they are asking now why such a tragedy had to happen.

That is the question about all death, but especially sudden death to men and women in their prime. The consolation, said Lasorda, first through his own words and then from a poem, is that both Crews and Olin were good men, and the wives of both, if inconsolable now, could ease the pain in later years by recalling the character of their husbands and the full lives they led.

"It's been said," said the Dodgers manager, "that you can judge the character of a man by who shows up at his funeral." Which was baseball, heart and soul, all of it.

Hargrove said he had known Crews for only a month since the pitcher had been obtained in the off-season from the Dodgers. In that month, though, he had come to respect and admire Crews.

And the manager broke down when he recalled how long he has known Olin and how Olin "reminded me of Mister Rogers," and how Olin had come up to him over the last weekend and joked with his manager that he could start if Hargrove wanted to take him out of the bullpen. "Mister Rogers," Hargrove said several times. "Steve was Mister Rogers."

Someday, ended the manager, his eyes welling, "the Indians will make you proud to have worn the Cleveland uniform."

Then Thornton ended the service with readings from the Bible, and the night was still muted, this time with inspiration. But when the tape recording of "The Dance" by Garth Brooks began to play, the tape selected by teammate Wickander, tears flowed all through the hall.

"For a moment, all the world was right

"How could I have known you'd ever say goodbye?"

Players, wives, managers, Indians, Dodgers, just about all reached for their tissues.

"I saw I was glad I didn't know

"The way it all would end

"The way it all would go."

And long after, the final strains of "The Dance" were still resonating through the soul, words that were apropos, but so painful.

"Yes, my life is better left to chance:

"I could have missed the pain,

"But I also would have missed the dance."

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