Bluffton to play baseball despite player deaths

BLUFFTON, Ohio -- Bluffton University will play baseball this season despite the deaths of five players who were killed when the team bus toppled off an overpass.

"It's important they get back on the field and do what they love," athletic director Phill Talavinia said Tuesday.

School president James Harder said the players met daily the last week to talk about whether to play. More than anything, he said, they were concerned about the feelings of the families who lost sons. No one objected.

"Those who lost their lives in this tragic accident were passionate about playing baseball," Harder said.

The team, unanimous in its decision to play, will wear black uniforms to honor the five: Scott Harmon, Tyler Williams, Cody Holp, David Betts and Zach Arend.

The Beavers had their first practice Monday inside a gym where a week ago they attended a memorial service for those killed. Their first game is March 30 against Mount St. Joseph of Cincinnati.

About two dozen players gathered for the announcement, but none spoke. They took turns inside a batting cage erected on a stage in the gym.

"It was a good feeling to go into the gym and hearing the crack of the bat," Talavinia said. "It was nice doing those normal things."

The team will be without coach James Grandey for at least the beginning of the season. He is recovering from breaking all the bones in his face and injuring his right leg.

As many as six players could miss all or part of the season with injuries. Tim Berta, a student coach, is in critical condition at Grady Memorial Hospital.

Several sporting goods companies, including Nike and Wilson Sporting Goods, donated equipment to replace what was destroyed in the crash. The Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians and Florida Marlins also shipped balls, bats and gloves to the university.

The team's bus plunged off an overpass in Atlanta on March 2 while on a trip to Florida. Four players died at the scene and a fifth died a week later. The driver and his wife also died.

Investigators have said the driver apparently mistook an exit ramp for a highway lane. He continued without stopping at an intersection at the top of the ramp and then went over the edge.