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Pain of Adenhart's loss sticks with Halos

Pain of Adenhart's loss sticks with Halos

ANAHEIM -- Jered Weaver and Nick Adenhart were getting close. Kindred spirits, they shared a love of the game that was their profession, and the Angels teammates were about to share Weaver's home a half-hour up the freeway in Long Beach, Calif.

One year ago on Thursday, Adenhart pitched his first game of the season, shutting out the Athletics across six brilliant innings at Angel Stadium. The 22-year-old right-hander was aglow, and afterward he shared his feelings with pitching coach Mike Butcher.

"He'd had a couple of spot starts the year before where he was kind of nervous," Weaver said. "That was his best outing; you could tell everything was coming together.

"I remember Nick telling Butch, `I think I figured it out.' You could tell he was feeling more comfortable, more confident every time out. He was filling up the [strike] zone that night."

Roughly three hours after walking off the mound and accepting congratulations from manager Mike Scioscia, catcher Mike Napoli and the rest of the club, the brightest young star in the organization was gone.

A vehicle driven by a man subsequently charged with triple-murder had crashed into the one occupied by Adenhart and three companions. Courtney Stewart and Nick Pearson died alongside Adenhart. Jon Wilhite remarkably survived, without memory of the incident.

Yet for Weaver and all of those who knew Adenhart -- people who cheered him, were touched by him, who couldn't wait to see him deliver on all that potential -- it remains all too painfully vivid.

"The shock ... I don't think you ever get over the shock," Weaver said, his head bowed at his locker. "Any time you bring it up, it's there.

"He was going to move in with me in Long Beach. He died on Thursday morning. We were going to move him in on Sunday."

It was Weaver's burden to pitch the next game the Angels played following a postponement of the game scheduled for that Thursday against the A's.

It came against Boston, and Weaver somehow managed to work his way through his emotions and the Red Sox lineup, prevailing, 6-3. Under normal circumstances, it would have been an evening to celebrate.

This was one to survive.

"There definitely was an empty feeling in the stadium," Weaver said. "I don't think anybody knew what to do. I don't think the fans knew, we didn't know ... how could you?"

The incomprehensible numbness eventually gave way to the routine, doing what these athletes have done all their lives. They played baseball.

"It's our job," Weaver said. "We had to go on. Once the game got going, and you were feeling the rhythm of the game again, it was baseball. The game was the same, but it was definitely different."

The Angels, reminded daily of their loss, understandably struggled finding consistency on the field. They were 29-29 on June 11, the night in Florida following a lackluster 11-1 loss to the Rays when Scioscia lit into them.

It was uncharacteristic of the manager to express himself in such fashion after a game, but he felt it was time. And the Angels clearly responded, winning the next seven games and setting off on a course that would carry them to 97 wins and their third consecutive American League West title.

It was a season unlike any other, and all involved hope to never experience anything like it again.

"I wouldn't call it a haze," Weaver said. "We just had a lot of ups and downs, a lot of stuff to deal with last year. Losing Nick, that was the painful thing to deal with. You never think you're going to have to deal with anything like that."

Those who were closest to Adenhart were his Minor League teammates coming up through the system, players such as Bobby Wilson, Brandon Wood, Reggie Willits, Howard Kendrick.

Whenever they gazed out at the Adenhart image, delivering a pitch on the center-field wall, the memories would come rushing back. His locker was preserved as it was that night, and his jersey hung in the dugout during each game.

The caps, photos and personalized mementos on the walkway leading to the main entrance at Angel Stadium served as an ever-expanding makeshift tribute.

The club decided it would be best to move on this season without all those reminders, but Adenhart will remain in the thoughts and hearts of those enriched by his presence, his relaxed manner and earthy humor.

Wilson, the Angels' third catcher, was in Salt Lake when the stunning news arrived, having been dispatched four days earlier to Triple-A with the final roster cuts.

April 8 was his 26th birthday, and the catcher was feeling so good knowing one of his best buddies had pitched six scoreless innings against the A's.

The news left him stunned -- and wondering what might have been.

"Had I been there," Wilson said, "there's no saying for sure, but I was doing everything else with Nick. I probably would have been celebrating with him, excited for him. Without a doubt.

"Nick had so much ahead of him. I would have taken his place in a heartbeat."

Weaver, who won his season debut against the Twins and makes his second start on Saturday against the A's, went on to accept the inaugural Nick Adenhart Award as the team's Pitcher of the Year for 2009.

A bronze bust of Adenhart commemorating the first award in his honor will be treasured by the man who was about to become his roommate.

"It means a lot," Weaver said. "I'll always have that to look back on, tell my kids about, my grandkids."

He'll tell them all about Nick Adenhart, a wonderful kid himself who was taken way too soon.

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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