3/21/2013 7:00 A.M. ET
Crews, Olin families persevering 20 years later
Wives, children cherish memories, march on with lives after pitchers' tragic deaths
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
The cloudless sky, the shining sun and the still waters betray the truth of what happened here.
This is where the world lost you, Tim, and you, Steve. On Little Lake Nellie in Clermont, Fla. This is where you boarded a black power boat shortly after sundown on March 22, 1993, hoping the bass would be biting on that overcast evening. This is where you saw the headlights flashing from the shore, alerting you that the rest of your friends had arrived. This is where you hit the gas, Tim, not knowing that, in the blackness of a night with a new moon, the 18-foot, open-air Skeeter had drifted out toward the unlit dock on the opposite shore -- a 185-foot-long wooden structure that extended far into the water. This is where the boat slammed, head-high, into the end of that dock.
This is where life met death.
The baseball world couldn't fathom what happened here, because ballplayers aren't supposed to die. Not during Spring Training, when optimism is abundant and nobody frets over standings or statistics. Not when they have young, growing families waiting for them on dry land.
That's why baseball fans remember the names Tim Crews and Steve Olin. They remember the way your Cleveland Indians teammates wrestled with the emotional intensity of that 1993 season. The way Bob Ojeda, who had been with you on the boat and survived only because he happened to be slouching at the moment of impact, dealt with survivor's guilt and suicidal thoughts before returning to the team later that year.
What they don't know, what they can't know, is what it's been like for your families to live with the losses. What it was like for your wives to explain to their children that Daddy wasn't coming back. What it was like -- what it is like -- for them to wonder what their lives would be like today, if only you were still here.
Twenty years. You've missed so much.
Laurie is standing in the living room of the two-story cedar house built on 48 acres of former orange grove. This was your dream home, Tim. If you could peer out the back window, beyond the grazing pastures and the riding rings, you'd see the 22-stall horse barn you had built for her. And beyond that, the lake. The place where the dream died.
You found this place in 1992, not long after you signed a seven-figure contract with the Dodgers. Every Sunday that winter, you and Laurie scanned the classifieds, looking for the perfect spot where two native Floridians could settle down. You wanted five acres, but it seemed every time you looked, the properties got bigger and bigger. Finally, your realtor pointed you here, to Autumn Lane, to the unkempt acreage that wasn't even on the market. It took creativity to look at the land filled with all those scrubby trees and see what would become the "Bass and Bridle Ranch." You had that vision, and true to form, did your best to will it into being the following offseason, taking your little blue tractor into the fields, stripping dead citrus from the soil to clear the space where Laurie's horses could roam. "The Dirt Farmer" was your nickname, and Laurie laughs at the memory, because it didn't take long for you to give in and hire a construction company to finish the job.
The barn went up first, then the house. The whole process took more than a year. You moved in on Feb. 12, 1993, soon after signing with a new team, the Indians, who, as luck would have it, held Spring Training camp 40 miles to the south, in Winter Haven. You could commute, check in, ready your arm for the grind of another 80 innings or so of long relief, then head home to your wife, your three young children and your bass boat. Everything was perfect.
Six weeks later, you were gone. Laurie hadn't even finished unpacking.
Yes, she still lives here today, and some people can't comprehend that. They don't know how she could stay within eyesight of the spot where your head hit the dock in the dark. How the kids could play and swim in that very lake. How Laurie could willingly be surrounded by the daily reminders of the life the two of you had planned.
But what they also don't understand is Laurie's moxie, her indefatigable nature and her lineage. She's the daughter of Dutch parents who were born in Indonesia and spent three years in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. When World War II ended, they came here, to a land of opportunity and individuality. Laurie's father found migrant farm work in Central Florida, and he kept two jobs at any given time. He bought a piece of property in Windermere, which has since become one of the most prestigious areas of Orlando, for $9,000, before Disney World was built. He was a hoarder of duct tape and wire and batteries and anything and everything that might come in handy if a war broke out. "The Dutch McGuyver," they called him.
He was a survivor. So is Laurie.
She has persevered here, at the safe place you had sought to raise your kids and groom her horses and cast your line into the tranquil waters of Little Lake Nellie. And if you could see your kids now, you'd know what a wonderful job she did.
Tricia is 29 now. She's a veterinarian in Williston, not far away, and she's grown into a beautiful woman with long brown hair, sharp brown eyes and a fearless approach to her craft. When she was a kid, she found her cat laying sick in the bushes and was afraid to touch it. Now, she's cutting off the heads of dead horses for rabies tests.
Your youngest, Travis, has also come a long way. Growing up, he was a scrawny little squirt who would be terrorized by his older brother, pelted with paint balls when he'd try to hide in a tree. He didn't have the hand-eye coordination to pursue baseball and once broke his nose trying to catch a fly ball. Now he's 6-foot-3, strapping, with a badge to boot. At 23, he's one of the youngest members of the Kissimmee police force.
And Shawn? Man, Shawn is your spitting image. The broad shoulders, the twang in his voice, the gleaming blue eyes. Like you, Shawn was a pitcher, before an array of arm injuries and surgeries forced him out of the game at the junior-college level. Now he's 24 and finishing up his degree in architecture at the University of Florida. He has plans to start grad school next fall, around the time his fiancée, Christen, is due to give birth to your first grandchild.
The memories of you are limited for Tricia, hazy for Shawn and non-existent for Travis. But they love that shot of you from the 1988 World Series, waiting near home plate to smack hands with Kirk Gibson after his legendary home run, and Laurie and your parents and brothers have done their best to fill in the blanks. The kids adore their mother and light up when they talk about how well she filled the roles of, as Travis says, "tough daddy and sensitive mama." Laurie is still as sassy and as chatty as the day you met at Valencia Community College, when you fell for the volleyball player who ran laps with the guys on the baseball team in her little red shorts.
But all that sass hasn't made the past 20 years any easier. Laurie can't count the number of times she'd pull up to the ranch, see your truck in the driveway and think, for a fleeting moment, that you had returned. Or the number of nights, in the weeks after the accident, that those three young bodies piled into bed with her. Sure, she made some mistakes along the way. Relationships came and went, and people didn't always respect her decisions.
Not long after you died, Laurie hired a young guy named Sean Griffith to build fences at the ranch, and, well, things progressed. Sean moved in, and, soon, Laurie was pregnant. She gave birth to a girl, Jeannie, less than a year and a half after the accident, and Jeannie has been nothing short of a beloved little sister to your kids ever since. Your parents have always treated her just like one of the Crews kids.
Still, the relationship with Sean drove a wedge between Laurie and some of her friends and relatives. They wondered how she could move on so quickly. But Laurie had it in her mind from the beginning that she would not let herself venture down the dark hole of depression, not let herself succumb to the what-ifs and the wherefore-art-thous. She was going to keep moving, keep doing. Feed the horses, clean the stalls, coach the kids' teams. Go, go, go. The rodeo shows, the skiing trips, the ocean fishing excursions, the trips to Holland to explore their ancestry. Your kids were well-traveled but they also understood the value of hard work. Heck, they were back in school the day after your funeral. Laurie did not for a moment let their dad's absence prevent them from learning how to fish, to throw, to repair a pipe or to change a light bulb.
So, yes, Laurie was tough-minded and strong-willed, yet she still needed support over the years. The relationship with Sean fizzled, but thank goodness for Jeannie, who was Laurie's best buddy as your kids grew up and moved out. But even Jeannie has grown up in a hurry. She's newly married and just gave birth to a son, Kaden, in January. At 18, she's discovering how quickly life can change.
She's in a family whose members have each other's backs. When Shawn was a pitcher in high school -- mimicking your mannerisms on the mound despite having no real memory of you on the mound -- he'd go to scouting tryouts or camps, and the two loudest voices from the stands would invariably be those of Laurie and Tricia.
"Woo! Look at that curveball! He threw that just like his daddy did!"
Shawn wonders if his baseball career would have taken off with his dad there to mentor him. Instead, he is now focused not on baseball but on his schooling and his own soon-to-blossom family.
There are times, though, when he'll visit his mom, retreat to the upstairs game room and gaze at your Dodgers jersey hanging on the wall or leaf through the photos and news clippings tucked into the dresser drawers. The vents are closed in that room, and it gets mighty cold up there in the wintertime. It is not a room visited often, because this is not a family that needs to keep the photos and mementos out in the open to preserve your memory. Nor is this a family that feels the need to make many visits to your grave at Woodlawn Memorial Park. For as pleased as they are that your tombstone overlooks a small pond, putting you in eternal reach of the waters you loved, they know your spirit is actually beside them, around them, speaking to them, sometimes in the strangest ways.
Your number with the Dodgers was 52, and they see it often. Travis will happen to look up at a clock at 52 minutes past the hour. Laurie will get a dinner bill for $52 and change. She remembers grabbing her high school yearbook -- published before she even met you -- and taking it to a hospital where her high school track coach, Ogie Keneipp, was dying of pancreatic cancer. She opened the book to a page showing a group of football players Ogie had coached, and the only jersey number they could make out in the blurry photo was 52. She closed the book and will forever believe that you were there for Coach as he prepared to venture into the ether.
Is that you up there, Tim? Because some of these things don't feel like coincidence.
Was that you preventing your old Dodge Ram from skidding off the ledge and falling down a cliff when Laurie hit a patch of ice on an S-curve during a family visit to North Carolina just a few years after the accident? Because it's difficult to believe that thin tree on the side of the road was what really held it up.
Was that you looking over Shawn, encouraging him to jump off his motorcycle just before it was T-boned by a speeding car at an intersection last September? Because the police officer working the scene told Shawn he had seen about 25 similar accidents in which the biker did not survive.
They hope that's you, pulling the plow and sprinkling in the reminders that you're a constant, hovering in their midst. They need those reminders, because the grief never ends.
The other day, Laurie was watching TV, and she got annoyed when Dr. Phil told a woman who had just lost her husband that the feelings of anguish get easier to handle over time. It doesn't get easier, Laurie thought; it just occurs with less frequency. Your life evolves, you keep busy and you don't let the absence overwhelm you. Laurie is busy as ever. She has about 20 regular students at the ranch, and she teaches them how to ride and care for the horses. She attends their barrel shows and arranges their summer camps. Those students are like sons and daughters to her. And she's got a new man in her life. Jerry Tate. He lives with her, and he's been good to her.
But you're still present as Laurie stands in the living room, scrolling through the music channels on the satellite radio and landing on a country station. Randy Travis' voice comes through the speakers, and Laurie mentions that you used to know Travis' promotion agent, who would hook you up with tickets to his shows. You saw Travis in Hawaii, shortly before the accident. You were there for some charity golf outing and Randy was filming a trailer for a TV movie. Tears well in Laurie's eyes. She has that memory of getting to ride Travis' black stallion on the beach in Maui, the waves crashing against the shore and you looking on as the horse galloped off toward the setting sun.
God, it was beautiful.
She sits in Section 114, Row N, Seat 8 in Goodyear Ballpark, shaded from the hot sun beating down on this March afternoon in Arizona. She has no rooting interest in the Cactus League game the Indians are playing against the Reds, and her eyes no longer reflexively peer over at the Cleveland bullpen, as they once did, waiting for you to trot out for the save.
Patti Olin-Winter, as she is now known, no longer enjoys the perks and endures the pressures of a baseball wife. She is, instead, a baseball widow. When she lost you, Steve, she was 25. Your daughter, Alexa, had turned 3 the day before the accident. Your twins, Garrett and Kaylee, were 7 months old.
Patti was lost. She was helpless.
You were supposed to be the closer on that '93 team. You had just bought a house in the Cleveland suburbs, and there was talk of a long-term contract. You had made the long climb from the anonymity of the 16th round of the amateur Draft, when the Indians gave you $1,000 to sign your first pro contract and you and Patti thought you were wildly rich. You were past the point of bouncing between the Majors and the Minors and well past the point of having your submarine-style pitching motion scrutinized. You had made that unorthodox delivery work, silenced the skeptics, and '93 was to be the first time the two of you could just enjoy Spring Training.
In those frantic moments after the accident, they wouldn't let Patti near the boat. Laurie Crews was hell-bent on getting down to the shore to find Tim, brushing past the paramedics like a running back breaking a tackle. But Patti hung back, sitting on a curb, trying to process the chaos surrounding her. It wasn't her personality to push forward with force. And for a long while after that nightmare at the ranch, she struggled to determine how to push forward at all.
Sure, home was Portland, Ore. -- the place where the two of you were born and raised. But what did "home" mean anymore, anyway? "Home" had become whatever baseball town the two of you happened to inhabit from year to year. "Home" was the wives' room at Municipal Stadium. "Home" was the stands in the seventh inning, when it was fair game to wait for the bullpen door to swing open and see you emerging from it. "Home" was anywhere and everywhere, as long as you were there.
So when the club broke camp and headed north to Cleveland, Patti did the same. She stepped into the house in Westlake and found the note you had scribbled to her when you made a solo visit in the offseason:
"Welcome to our new house!"
She admits now that she was torturing herself, living in that house and playing your favorite song, Garth Brooks' "The Dance," every day as a gauge. Patti said to herself that if she could hear that song -- the one you had once told her you wanted played at your funeral -- without crying, she'd know she had made progress. But that never happened. It was a good thing the kids were too young to understand what was happening. Their mother was a wreck, flailing in blind stabs at something that had slipped away. It wasn't until July that family members -- yours and hers -- convinced Patti to return to the only real home she had left. She packed up the kids and went back to Portland.
But for a long while, even attending Garrett's high school games was a surreal, sometimes painful, experience. "My God," she'd say to herself, "that's Steve." The way Garrett would shrug his shoulders or shake his hand between pitches. The way he'd step over the first-base line on his way to and from the dugout. And of course, the quirky sidearm delivery -- the one his coaches forced him to abandon for fear he'd hurt himself. That was all you, Steve.
Patti sits here today with her son by her side. But it's not Garrett, who is 1,800 miles away, learning the rigors of military life at an Army post in Georgia. This is 13-year-old Sam Winter, who, in his younger years, would hear your name often and, one day, drew a laugh and an explanation when he wondered aloud, "Is Steve my dad or my uncle?"
Sam was born on Christmas Day in 1999, a gift, Patti likes to say, from a benevolent being above. But the family he was born into has been pulled apart.
You knew Bill Winter. The two of you played against each other when you were at Portland State and Bill was a third baseman and right fielder for the University of Portland. Neither of you could have imagined then that Bill would one day help Patti rebuild her life after you were gone. Patti and Bill were introduced by a mutual friend and married in February 1996. It was your dad, Gary, who filled in for Patti's deceased father and walked her down the aisle. And it was your daughter, Alexa, who ran up to Bill at the reception and called him "Dad" for the first time.
Your family embraced Bill as they had embraced Patti years earlier. Your sister, Joell, is still Patti's closest female friend and has been since that day, long ago, at your grandpa's lake house, when you asked your little sis to keep your girlfriend company while you hung out with your buddies. They clicked that day, sitting by the lake, talking about Joell's guy trouble, connecting, confessing. They were "sisters" before they were ever sisters-in-law.
Today, Joell and Patti are both enduring the toll of divorce just as they once endured the trauma of loss. They lived together recently, helping each other get through yet another major change. Joell will tell you that Patti never really recovered from your death. Sure, she could smile for pictures, she could crack her kids up on car rides trying to rap like Eminem, and she could share a bed, a family and a future with another man -- a man who helped her do a terrific job raising your three kids. But Patti never had that glow again. That glow could only come from the boy from Beaverton with the free spirit, the roper boots and cowboy hats and the beat-up orange Datsun he affectionately called Barney.
You had this way about you, Steve. Even in the midst of an argument, you'd be the first one to stop and say, "This is ridiculous. We're going to get through this." You were always so patient, so cool when things got hot. Patti internalized everything, fretted over everything. You were the one who brought her calm. You were the one who never made her feel like anything less than the most important person in your world.
A love like that only comes along once.
Patti and Bill agree that they never had that love. The kids were their focus, and once they reached adulthood and began to move out of the house, Patti and Bill paid the price for their own neglected foundation. Nobody cheated, no bitter war was waged. The respect was there, every step of the way, but that consuming, empowering, addictive love was not. And when they sat the kids down about a year ago and told them about the split, Alexa, Kaylee and Garrett weren't totally surprised. They knew their mom had not been happy for a while, so in one sense they were relieved. But they knew the divorce would be toughest on Sam, and their heart ached for the little guy.
The baseball world ached for your kids when word spread of your death, Steve. It was heartbreaking to realize Alexa, Kaylee and Garrett would never get to know their father. But what nobody could have known was how much those kids would go on to embody your best qualities.
Alexa shares your love of the sun, the outdoors, bugs and dirt. She'd go off to summer camp every year as a kid, eventually becoming a camp counselor. Now she's putting that experience and her psychology degree from the University of Portland to good use, working at a rehab center with drug- and alcohol-addicted teens. Some of those kids have all but given up on themselves, but Alexa encourages them to remember how much life they still have ahead, how much untapped capacity they possess. You'd see a lot of yourself in her enthusiasm for helping others. It was, after all, shortly before your death that you told your mom, Shirley, "When I make my first million, I'm going to start a house for the homeless kids here." That conversation always stuck with your mother, and she's so proud that Alexa is doing her part to make a difference.
Shirley has another memory of you that stands out when she talks about Garrett. It was Spring Training in Tucson, Ariz., and she was babysitting Alexa while you and Patti went out to dinner with another couple. When you got home, somebody mentioned that you had picked up the tab at the restaurant for a serviceman and his family. When the soldier thanked you, you told him, "I love my job. And if you weren't out there doing your job, I couldn't do my job."
Garrett's doing that job now. He enlisted in the Army over the winter and reported to Fort Benning in January. He was always more of a hands-on learner, so traditional schooling never suited him. When he finished high school and struggled to find stable work, the itch to serve took over. He looked so scared that final day before he reported for duty, and he sounded miserable in his initial correspondences from boot camp. But as the letters have kept coming, Garrett has sounded more and more passionate, convinced that he's done the right thing.
And remember how you used to hate losing, Steve? Well you should see Kaylee. Oh, brother. When the whole family gets together at the lake house and plays board games, Kaylee will up and leave the room if the outcome of Sorry or Monopoly or Apples to Apples doesn't go her way, because in those moments, she just can't be around other human beings. Of course, it's that expectation of perfection that has made Kaylee such an excellent student. She's a sophomore at UP, majoring in marketing, open to and hopeful for the boundless possibilities life provides.
You'd love to see how close your kids are with their cousins. You used to tell Joell and your other sister, Heather, to start pumping out some kids because you wanted a lot of "rugrats" running around. And now your parents have nine grandchildren in their lives, keeping them busy and blessed.
Your kids never knew you, but you are with them. Not just on the nightstand where Kaylee keeps your picture, not just on the wall where Alexa hangs the Fleer baseball card featuring the two of you in a photo on the back, and not just in the game-worn jersey that hangs in Garrett's closet.
No, you are with them, also, in permanent ink.
It started with Alexa, when she turned 18. She knew she wanted your No. 31 inscribed on her left wrist, and she found a letter you had written Patti, dated on the 31st of the month. The artist was able to make a stencil off the letter, and now your handwriting is right there on your daughter's arm. On her right wrist is another tribute -- a small ghost, because you used to call her your little "boo."
The twins followed suit. Garrett has his own No. 31 design on his forearm and his shoulder. And Kaylee has the words "Thirty One" written out across her back, between her shoulder blades. That one gave her poor grandmother heart palpitations, but when Shirley and Patti warned Kaylee that the tattoo will one day be visible to all honored guests when she wears a wedding dress, Kaylee calmed them with her response: "They'll know he has my back, and he's walking me down the aisle."
Your kids want you to know they're happy. They want you to know how brave, how supportive and how inspiring their mom has been through the years. They want you to know that they each strive, in their own way, to be just like you. And they remember what their grandmother told them when they were young: "Every time you feel the wind on your cheek, smile. Because that's your daddy giving you a kiss from heaven."
A light breeze blows here at the ballpark, as Patti reflects. Those awful, dark days almost feel like they happened to somebody else, like she read about it all in some magazine. These players on the field are unfamiliar to her, and this Spring Training vacation with her youngest son brings her joy, not pain. You can never be replaced, Steve, and Patti has learned not to wait for you to come out for the save. But she still thinks about you every day.
Maybe you're watching her doing it right now, as the breeze picks up and turns to wind.
Twenty years later, the waters of Little Lake Nellie are shallow. The dock, since rebuilt, extends across dry land. What happened in the spring of '93 could not happen now.
If only the lake had been this shallow that night.
Tim, you could be casting in those husband-and-wife bass fishing tournaments you and Laurie always talked about. Steve, you could have found that wide-open space where you'd ride four-wheelers and snowmobiles into the gloaming. Maybe you'd both be coaching some local team. Maybe you'd both barely remember that brief period in which baseball allowed your lives to intersect.
The thoughts of if only nearly ate Bobby Ojeda alive. They compelled him to fly to Stockholm, spontaneously, in the aftermath of the accident, not telling a soul where he was headed or what he was doing there. He thought about swallowing a fistful of pills and exiting the hell of reliving the incident in his head and wondering why he was the only one spared. Thankfully, your friend and teammate snapped out of it, came home, got psychiatric treatment, made a brief return to the mound, eventually became a pitching coach and, later, a Mets analyst for SportsNet New York. He politely declines requests to speak about the accident and the aftermath. Everybody deals with these things in their own way.
If only still haunts Fernando Montes. He was your strength and conditioning coach, the only non-player employee of the Indians invited to the housewarming party. Fernando was supposed to be with the three of you in the boat, but he lost the game of Rock-Paper-Scissors that determined who would jump back into Tim's truck and head up to the house to pick up Tim's friend, Perry Brigmond. That memory is now branded in his brain: arriving back at the shore and watching the boat make that turn from life to death. The sickening thud that hung in the air. Crying out, "Are you OK?" and hearing Ojeda's heart-breaking response, "No, no, we're not! We need help!"
What does a person do with that memory? What does a person do with those nagging questions: "Why was I spared? What's the grand plan here?" Montes still asks himself those questions, but he's tried to take advantage of the gift of life by living his the right way. He stayed in baseball for a while, with the Indians and the Rangers. Then he ran the Taylor Hooton Foundation, raising anti-steroid awareness and education. And in recent years, he's trained military personnel in the Army's 10th Special Forces Group to fight terrorism. He's cherished this work, and he's proud that those brave men have accepted him into their fraternity. But to this day, he never plays Rock-Paper-Scissors.
The if onlys lingered in the boat's wake. People latched onto the reports that your blood-alcohol level was .14, Tim -- in excess of the legal limit of .10 at the time. And some of those people were downright nasty. Those there that night insist that you were fully functional. Patti says she never would have let you get on that boat, Steve, if she had even the slightest suspicion that Tim was too drunk to drive. The only mistake, your loved ones insist, was steering the boat out into the dark of night. The little fishing excursion had been in the plans all day, but afternoon rainfall pushed it back toward the evening hours, and then the boat's water pump had to be fixed. If only.
Mike Hargrove let if only churn in his brain for a while. He was your manager, entrusted with molding minds on that Indians team -- a team that was just beginning to establish an identity, to feel like a family. But this? There was no standard operating procedure for this. Hours after the accident, "Grover" would find himself in a cramped clubhouse at the Chain O' Lakes facility, looking into the watering eyes of the players gathered at the dawn of a new day, not knowing what to say, not knowing if young men who had never had mortality slap them in the face would recover from it.
Why had it come to this? You guys weren't supposed to be training in Winter Haven, so close to the ranch. You were supposed to be on the southernmost tip of the Sunshine State, in Homestead. But Hurricane Andrew wiped away the facilities there and prompted the need to set up shop in Central Florida.
More to the point, the accident happened on the only off-day of camp. Hargrove had turned down the Dodgers' late request to reschedule a rained-out game in Winter Haven because he knew filling the anticipated break with a meaningless exhibition would cause a mutiny among the players. Oh, what he would give to redo that decision. The Indians never had another Spring Training off-day during Grover's tenure, which lasted another six years.
Sixth place. That's where the Tribe finished in that blur of a '93 season that followed. First they tried to honor your memory. Reliever Kevin Wickander wanted to make sure nobody would forget his best friend "Oly," and so, Steve, he set up a locker for you at every stop on the road. Eventually, though, Grover felt the tribute had ceased to serve a purpose. They weren't honoring you; they were continuing to mourn you. They moved on from that, and soon thereafter moved Wickander in a trade with the Reds. Wickander never was the same. He fizzled out of the game and did 2 1/2 years in Maricopa County Jail in Arizona on theft and drug-possession charges in the early 2000s. A lost soul who claimed he never got over your loss.
The Indians would see better days in the immediate years after the accident, moving to a beautiful new ballpark in 1994 and, on Sept. 8, 1995, capturing the American League Central Division crown -- the team's first title of any sort in 41 years. Jim Thome caught the final out and the players and coaches crowded in the infield grass near third base in celebration. Just then, a song could be heard on the in-house speakers at Jacobs Field:
Looking back on the memory of
The dance we shared 'neath the stars above
For a moment all the world was right
How could I have known that you'd ever say goodbye?
"The Dance" played, and some tiny percentage of fans in the stands might have understood its significance. But the men on the field knew.
It was Grover's way of saying, "We remember."
Baseball moves forward.
On any given day of the season, the transaction wire is awash with players coming and going. Lives mesh together and drift apart. At the funerals, promises were made to your widows that you -- and they -- would not be forgotten, and some have done a better job than others at keeping those promises. Death, Laurie and Patti discovered, is much like divorce. Save for a Christmas card here or there, people don't always know what to say or how to react.
Even Laurie and Patti were guilty of losing touch, for a long while. They live in opposite corners of the country and didn't know each other until that horrible day at the ranch. It seemed inevitable that they'd be separated by the sands of time.
But times change. You wouldn't believe the things that are possible with computers and communication. One piece of technology is called Facebook, and Laurie and Patti used it to find each other again last year. Now they're trading messages, keeping tabs on each other's lives and kids. Laurie has been insistent about having Patti visit, but Patti has been equally insistent that she can't ever go back to Little Lake Nellie. Patti will, however, be traveling to Fort Benning in May for Garrett's graduation from boot camp, and Laurie is going to make the drive up from Central Florida. It will be the first time they've seen each other in nearly 20 years.
Laurie will talk about her struggle to find a buyer for a property that, with the kids all grown and gone, is much too big for her needs. Patti will discuss the difficulty of the divorce, of venturing back into the dating world and trying to find love again.
They'll have a drink. They'll share stories. They might very well hug and shrug and break down and cry. Hopefully they'll laugh.
Under the Georgia sky, Laurie and Patti will show what it means to stay afloat. To endure heartache, to honor the past, to adapt to whatever strange and wonderful and terrible and amazing turns of life are yet to come.
They know you'll both be there, too.