Tragedy hangs over team

A college baseball team in Ohio lost five players when a bus plunged off an overpass.

Published April 1, 2007

BLUFFTON, Ohio - Some players who survived a bus crash that killed five teammates said they wanted their first game since the accident to be about baseball, but it was much more than that.

"The whole season is for the five of them," team captain Ryan Baightel said after the game. "We owe it to them not just to play but to compete."

Opening day came a month later than it should have for Bluffton University. The Beavers took the field Friday in black jerseys to honor the five teammates. Some of the starters still had scars and bruises from that awful morning in Atlanta.

Underneath the bill of outfielder Tony Moore's cap, he left a tribute in black marker.

"Scottie I Play For You," his message read.

Moore's hometown friend, Scott Harmon, was among those killed four weeks ago.

Since then, the players have attended memorial services and questioned why they survived and their friends didn't. For a few hours Friday, they could focus on the game.

"Once you get out here, you're a baseball player," said coach James Grandey. "Obviously today had a little more meaning."

Grandey couldn't coach and watched from the sidelines. His jaw is wired shut and his right leg is in a metal brace.

There was a festive atmosphere under bright sunshine at the ball field next to the flat farm fields of northwest Ohio. Fans sat on blankets and lawn chairs along the fences and parents of players grilled hot dogs and burgers.

The crowd cheered when pitcher Tim Kay, who was not badly hurt in the crash, struck out the first batter he faced, Ryan Meyer.

The Beavers lost the opener 10-5 against the College of Mount St. Joseph from Cincinnati. Too many errors and walks, Grandey told his team.

The players who died were never far from anyone's thoughts.

"Part of our team isn't out there," said Gwynne Freytag, whose son Brandon kicked out a hatch on the bus to allow players to escape the wreckage. "But it's a chance to move ahead for the boys. They're a team, and I've just got a feeling there's a lot of angels in the outfield today."

Five white crosses hung on the chain-link fence next to the visitors' dugout. On the outfield fence, banners hung by the team displayed the uniform numbers of the dead.

"It's almost like they're here with us," said Moore, a junior outfielder from Elida.

Nearly a month ago, the team from the Mennonite-affiliated school was headed to Florida for a tournament when investigators say the driver apparently mistook an exit ramp for a highway lane.

Their bus plunged off an overpass March 2. Four players, the bus driver and his wife died on the day of the wreck. A fifth player died a week later.