In Washington County of Western Maryland where I live, more than an hour west of Baltimore, it is not at all unusual to see folks wearing LA Angels hats and jerseys. That may seem somewhat unusual in this rather committed Orioles countryside, unless you know THE STORY.
This Hagerstown / Williamsport, MD area was the home of Nick Adenhart – the young Angels pitcher who was tragically killed in California by a drunk driver after making his first start of the season in 2009. Nick had cracked the starting rotation at age 22 and was pitching against the A’s in the 3rd game of the season (Dana Eveland, now with the Orioles in AAA, was the opposing starter). Nick pitched 6 scoreless innings, and though the A’s came back to win the game, Nick had every reason to celebrate and look forward to a great career. Within hours, he was dead – victimized by yet another drunk driver from our alcohol-saturated culture.
Everyone knew for years in advance that Nick was going to be a pro baseball player. Never had there been a little league pitcher in these parts quite like Adenhart. It was clear – this kid was a special talent. One of my sons graduated with Nick and played junior league football with him in 7th and 8th grades. I remember one occasion where Nick – the quarterback, of course – was injured and lying on the field. His parents were seated in the row behind me in the stands, and I remember his father saying, “Nick, just move your right arm, we can fix anything else, just let me see the right arm move.” It did! He was fine. But he did not play football in high school because of the risks involved, and also to play four years for the Oriolelanders – a showcase team of young talent sponsored by the Orioles.
I coach cross country and track at Williamsport High School where Nick played ball for the Wildcats. The baseball field is close to the track, and when Nick would pitch, I’d occasionally walk over and watch some of the game. It was amazing velocity for such an easy motion. And it was honestly as much fun to observe the scouts watching the game as to see Nick play. It was not unusual for there to be 20 to 30 scouts following him. With every pitch he threw, several dozen radar guns would rise in unison like a firing squad ordered to take aim.
Adenhart was expected to be one of the probable top picks in 2004, having been selected by Baseball America as the top junior player in the country. But near the end of his senior year, he hurt his arm pitching – requiring Tommy John surgery. Naturally, his stock plummeted. The Angels took him in the 14th round. They paid for his surgery and set him up in Arizona on a program of recovery under their tutelage.
It worked! He recovered everything and more! He was ready to fulfill the dream and give fruition to the investment made by the Angels’ organization in him. Then came the drunk in the 2,000-pound bullet.
The grief in our small community was palpable, exacerbated by the most unusual circumstance of another classmate from the same group of 200 Williamsport graduates also tragically dying hours later in a construction accident by falling off a roof. As if that was not enough, a third boy in the community of the same age and same graduation class was killed later that same day in a motorcycle accident. Ever hear the saying that “things happen in threes?”
I put this blog posting here as the Birds play the Angels to honor not only the memory of a fine young man, but to applaud the Angels organization. They could not have been more gracious or generous in the wake of all that transpired. They continue to be so to this day. Mike Scioscia and quite a number of the team in 2009 came to the memorial service. The family in coordination with the Angels have established the Nick Adenhart Foundation – toward the end of providing baseball opportunities and facilities for youth. The Angels have brought to Williamsport an incredible amount of good will – hence the local sporting of Angels caps and jerseys.
The baseball field at the Halfway Little League where Nick played is now called Adenhart Field. His battery mate throughout little league and high school – David Warrenfeltz – played Division 1 college baseball at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and has now returned to our community as a 4th-grade teacher and the head coach for Williamsport High School baseball. He was named “the coach of the year” in our area in his first year last spring with a team that went 17-5.
Even as we all enjoy the sport, sometimes it is good to remember that in the big picture, it is just a game.