It's been nearly 28 months since the Angels lost Nick Adenhart just hours after his finest major-league game. The pain is a little duller now, but the memories linger.
Jered Weaver still sketches Adenhart's initials in the dirt before every inning, and many of those 154 innings have been among the best in the majors this year. Torii Hunter brought up Adenhart the other day when he was searching for why the Angels always seem to struggle for a month or so after getting bad news (see Kendrys Morales).
But perhaps the finest tribute to Adenhart was paid by catcher Bobby Wilson, who got up early Saturday morning and traveled 70 miles to Williamsport, Md., before the Angels game with the Baltimore Orioles. Wilson was there for the first Nick Adenhart Baseball Camp, set up to inspire young players to follow Adenhart's path.
"It was a good day," Wilson told the Orange County Register's Bill Plunkett. "More gratifying for me to talk about it than it was for them to hear it, maybe."
April 9, the day in 2009 that Adenhart died in a collision involving a drunk driver, now passes without any commemorations at Angel Stadium. Nobody who knew Adenhart will soon let that day pass without marking it.
If you look up Adenhart's numbers, you'll see that he made four major-league starts, had a 6.00 ERA and walked 16 batters in 12 innings. He struck out nine and gave up 25 hits. In the future, people might glance at those statistics and wonder why his career never took off, why it foundered at age 22. Plenty of pitchers have only touched the big leagues, then retreated to a career of obscurity in the minor leagues.
We know with a fair amount of certainty that Adenhart, a lanky right-hander, wouldn't have been one of those guys. What we'll never know is how far he might have gone if things hadn't gone so tragically awry at that stoplight in the middle of the night.
The Angels were seeing Adenhart figure things out so much more quickly than most young pitchers. At the media conference after his death, that's what Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher remembered.
Adenhart had just exited that final game, against the Oakland A's, having helped his team to a 4-0 lead. When Butcher approached Adenhart in the dugout, the young pitcher said, "Butch, I got it."
"That was a pretty special moment to see a kid figure it out that early and understand it and own it," Butcher said that day.
If only it could have lasted.
This story is part of an occasional series of Angels Moments which, when it's complete, will -- we hope -- add up to 50. The Angels are celebrating their 50th anniversary this season. These are not intended to be an exhaustive list, but simply an assembly of scenes and anecdotes that are part of the team's colorful past.