On Thursday, we learned of the definitive feel-bad story of the sports year with the death of 22-year-old Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart and two friends in a car crash caused by some drunk asshole who ran a red light and then tried to flee the scene rather than attempting to help save any of the lives he ended.
Every element of the story makes your heart break a little bit. But the one that gets me the most is the fact that Adenhart’s dad had flown across the country to see him pitch in his season debut — and just his fourth career start — on Wednesday night against the A’s. At least he got to be there and share in that moment, but this passage of the Associated Press story is still a tough one to read:
Adenhart’s father, Jim, a retired Secret Service agent, walked onto the field in the empty stadium Thursday and spent several moments alone on the pitcher’s mound. Wearing a red sweatshirt, the Angels’ color, he briefly covered his eyes with one hand.
Obviously, no one ever says anything bad about the recently deceased, but if you needed any evidence of what Adenhart actually meant to those that knew him, one needn’t look further than the press conference images of agent Scott Boras breaking down in tears. Boras, who has never seemed like much more than a money-grubbing automaton, suddenly became poignantly human in that moment. (I am willing to suspend my cynicism enough to assume it wasn’t over the lost commission.)
The sense of tragedy is only heightened by the dizzying array of events which had to take place in order for the accident to happen as it did — things which are seemingly unrelated but inexorably led to the heartbreaking path that took place.
For instance, what if Adenhart was in Salt Lake City with the Angels AAA affilliate rather than with the big league club? If starters John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar and Ervin Santana were all in the rotation rather than on the disabled list to open the season, that likely would have been the case.
Or what if Mike Scioscia had decided to pencil Adenhart in to start on Thursday rather than Wednesday? Adenhart likely wouldn’t have been out with friends the night before a start. Clearly, there is no way for Scioscia to foresee such a terrible result out of something as simple as the order of the pitching rotation. It was merely one of the many twists of fate in the story. Yet you wonder if it is something that has weighed on his conscience in the terrible day that followed the accident.
And of course when it comes to an accident with two vehicles colliding at high speeds, every second makes a difference. If either vehicle had reached the site of impact just 30 seconds sooner or later, we are not here talking about this. It’s all enough to make your head spin and your heart ache.
In an era where we seemingly can’t go a week without an athlete getting a DUI, it seems horribly unfair that a guy who was doing the right thing — getting a ride from a friend on a night to celebrate the best performance of his young career — is the one who is dead.
The toughest part for the Angels will be in the coming days and weeks as they try to find a way to move forward with the seemingly trivial task of playing baseball. Perhaps no person on earth will feel more awkward than whoever it is that will be called up from the minors to take the spot now vacated by Adenhart on the roster. Getting called up because of an injury is one thing, but this is a far more somber task. Especially when you consider that it will likely be one of Adenhart’s friends from the minor league system who gets that call.
As Rob Neyer pointed out, this is far from the first time the Angels organization has had to deal with tragedy of this nature. From multiple fatal car accidents to the senseless murder of Lyman Bostock in 1978, you can easily argue that no fanbase has had to say goodbye to more of its players in such a terrible fashion.
I mean, for Christ sake, even the feel-good Disney movie about the team gives you the rather somber news that Tony Danza’s character is going to die in the offseason. But at least that was fiction.
The tragic death of Nick Adenhart is far too real. Hopefully he’s still with the angels.