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How a major league pitcher became a victim of a major hurricane

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When hurricanes strike Florida, sports fade on the priority list as they should. Hurricane Matthew has done significant damage, but fortunately our state avoided a catastrophe.

A few sports events, such as LSU vs. Florida, were postponed, but other than that the lives of athletes or programs suffered no lasting damage. Matthew was thought to possess the threat for damage equal to that of Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

In the end, whether in sports or real life, there is no true comparison because Andrew was a killer. Andrew was directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of Floridians during and even well after its deadly assault on our state. In one tragic example, a Tampa native and major league pitcher was a victim of the worst kind of karma.

The story begins in March, 1992 as baseball’s spring training concluded. The Cleveland Indians had played their last Cactus League game at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Arizona.

When pitchers and catchers reported in February of 1993, the Indians players would be going to a new, state of the art facility in Homestead, Florida. It had all the trimmings that a late-20th century operation should have.

But the Indians would never play a game there. In late August of 1992 the Category 5 hurricane named Andrew struck Homestead. Along with thousands of homes, the Indians’ training facility was destroyed.

Cleveland made arrangements to move to Winter Haven, where the Red Sox had trained for so many years. This quirk of fate led to another tragedy that would not have happened had Andrew not brought its wrath to south Florida.

Tim Crews was new to the Indians for that 1993 season. He had enjoyed six years with the Los Angeles Dodgers (including a World Series title) after his high school career at Tampa’s King High School and Valencia Community College in Orlando.

After training with the Dodgers in Vero Beach for his entire career, Cleveland’s move of its spring training to Florida meant Crews would be able to stay in his home state for at least a month longer each year. While expecting to train in Homestead, the chance to train closer to his roots had to be appealing.

Crews was said to be bonding well with his new teammates. On March 23, 1993, after a day of bar-b-que and horseback riding on his newly-built ranch, Crews and teammates Steve Olin and Bobby Ojeda climbed aboard Crews’s boat for a little night fishing on Little Lake Nelle near Clermont.

He did not see through the darkness a dock extending into the lake and the boat slammed into it at a high rate of speed. Crews and Olin were killed while Ojeda survived with a severe scalp wound.

When the recent boating tragedy involving Miami Marlins’ pitcher Jose Fernandez played out in September, the equally heartbreaking story of Crews and Olin was seemingly forgotten.

Both tragedies involved two pitchers, both products of Tampa high school baseball (Fernandez from Alonso High), both lost in boating accidents while still active players. Ironically, Fernandez lost his life in an accident not all that far from where Crews and Olin were supposed to be on March 23, 1993.

Hurricane Andrew ended and/or ruined many lives in 1992. Matthew has disrupted lives in 2016, but should not having the lasting effects of disasters like Andrew.

For that we can all be grateful.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at [email protected]

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