Here he was, just 22 years old, pitching for what has become a role-model franchise and succeeding. It appeared that his extraordinarily bright future might be much closer to the present than previously thought.
And then, just hours later on Thursday morning, Nick Adenhart was dead. He was killed in a three-car accident along with two others. The accident was being blamed on a motorist who ran a red light in his van and fled the scene on foot. He was subsequently caught and arrested on suspicion of felony driving under the influence and vehicular manslaughter. According to authorities, the suspect had a previous DUI arrest and his driver's license was suspended.
You hear a story like this and you immediately think that the perpetrator of this fatal episode must receive the harshest penalty that the law allows. He must be made to pay for what initially appears to be murder by stupidity, negligence and substance abuse. His license should be forfeited for keeps, but so should his liberty. Make an example of him, throw the book at him, keep him off the streets for the well-being of the general populace.
This is not an incorrect impulse. But it is also merely vengeance. That is only a small aspect of what this episode is about. This is mostly about sadness, about how a young person can have life taken away at a point when his adult life has just begun. The death of any 22-year-old, whether he is a Major League pitcher, or someone completely outside the public view, is fundamentally tragic.
Active player deaths since 1990
|Nick Adenhart||Angels|| 4/9/2009|
|Steve Bechler||Orioles ||2/17/2003|
|Tim Crews|| Indians|| 3/23/1993|
|Mike Darr||Padres|| 2/15/2002|
|Josh Hancock||Cardinals ||4/29/2007|
|Joe Kennedy||Blue Jays ||11/23/2007|
|Darryl Kile||Cardinals|| 6/22/2002|
|Cory Lidle||Yankees|| 10/11/2006|
|Steve Olin||Indians|| 3/22/1993|
|Dernell Stenson|| Reds ||11/5/2003|
In a way, this death was felt in every ballpark in the country. In Boston, where the Tampa Bay Rays were playing the Red Sox, Rays manager Joe Maddon, who had a long association with the Angels as a coach, said of Adenhart:
"I knew they really liked him. Everybody thought that he was a great kid."
Red Sox manager Terry Francona had this to say of the news of Adenhart's death:
"It's almost numbing, it's crushing. Obviously, our thoughts are with the Angels and the families. As much as we care about baseball, it becomes secondary in a hurry."
Within baseball, the grief was genuine and widespread. Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, issued a statement that said:
"We were shaken and deeply saddened when we learned about the terrible accident that claimed the lives of Nick Adenhart and others. Just hours before the accident, Nick
demonstrated his passion for baseball and his prospects for a very bright future when he pitched six scoreless innings for the Angels.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to Nick's family, his teammates, the Angels organization and his many friends and fans; It is very painful to lose a son, a teammate and a friend under these circumstances, and we also extend our deepest condolences to the families and friends of the other victims of the crash."
There again was the juxtaposition of the brilliance on the field followed by the tragedy. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig also issued a statement saying, "Major League Baseball is in mourning today upon the news of this tragedy that has taken Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart and two others. Nick was just 22 years of age, with a wonderful life and career ahead of him."
Selig also expressed his condolences to the families and friends of all three victims. And he directed the Angels to postpone Thursday night's game against Oakland. It is necessary at a time such as this to pay a lost young life at least that much respect.
There are no answers for an event such as this, no reasons, no explanations, nothing that will suffice. One moment there was Nick Adenhart and the evidence of all his skill and promise. And in the blink of an eye, this young man was one of three victims of a vehicular accident, the nature of which provokes not only sadness but outrage. The road from being a future star to a fatality was as short as it was tragic.