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Suzuki saw Adenhart's promise early

Suzuki saw Adenhart's promise early

OAKLAND -- The horrific April 9 automobile crash that claimed the lives of three young people, including promising Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart, impacted Athletics catcher Kurt Suzuki on a number of levels.

The lone survivor, Jon Wilhite, was Suzuki's teammate and friend dating to their year together at Cal State Fullerton in 2004.

Wilhite and Suzuki embraced and shared a memorable day together on Saturday, with Wilhite throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the A's faced the Angels at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

Suzuki also had a relationship with Adenhart, who, at 22, appeared destined for stardom.

The two played together for Team USA in the late summer of 2006 on a squad that qualified the United States for the 2008 Summer Olympics with a tournament triumph in Cuba.

Angels infielder Brandon Wood played shortstop on that team, bunking right alongside Adenhart, his good buddy.

"I caught Nick in that tournament," Suzuki recalled. "He pitched against Brazil, and I remember what great stuff he had -- and how hilarious he was.

"There were a lot of Nick Adenhart stories in Cuba. He was always in a good mood, having a good time. I was recently talking with [Twins pitcher] Kevin Slowey about how we hung out together in Cuba and got to know each other, what a great time that was.

"Nick was only going to get better. With that stuff he had and the Angels' pitching staff, you could see where Nick was going. It was just an unbelievable tragedy."

After their summer in Cuba, Suzuki would see Adenhart during Spring Training in Arizona. They'd have a few laughs, talk about how they were doing.

"I didn't get to face him until his first start in the big leagues [in 2007]," Suzuki said. "And I faced him that night this season."

That was April 8, hours before the car occupied by Adenhart, Wilhite, driver Courtney Stewart and Henry Pearson was broadsided by a man who was subsequently charged with triple murder for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Adenhart shut out Suzuki and the A's for six innings that night at Angel Stadium, putting all of his remarkable talent together.

"I got a hit off him, on his curveball," Suzuki said. "I got to first base and gave him a little look."

Adenhart, always serious about his craft, acknowledged Suzuki with a slight nod and went back to business.

Twice in that game, Adenhart had the upper hand. In the first inning, Suzuki grounded out to third, leaving two runners stranded. In the fifth, the catcher grounded to shortstop for a force with the bases loaded and two outs.

In his final inning that night, setting the A's down in order, Adenhart threw nothing but strikes, pounding catcher Mike Napoli's target seven times.

The Suzuki connection goes even deeper. He was the first batter Adenhart faced in his big league debut on May 1, 2008.

Without much sleep, having just been recalled from Triple-A Salt Lake, Adenhart retired Suzuki on a ground ball to third base leading off the game. But trouble surfaced in the second inning, and Suzuki was in the middle of it, driving in two runs with a single to left field.

Adenhart's debut lasted only two innings.

Eleven months later, he was back on the mound at Angel Stadium, on the threshold of great things. Kurt Suzuki was sure of that as he watched his old friend hang up six zeros against the A's on the final night of his life.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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