A Search for Peace
The California Angels played a three game series with the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards in Baltimore this past week. While the Orioles are an unremarkable team this year, in last place in the American League Eastern Division, the Angels continue to rise from the ashes of the early summer and remain in front of the Texas Rangers in the race for a Division Championship.
What made the series more memorable than the Angels winning it was a visitor to the clubhouse, Jim Adenhart.
There are stories that make headlines and then are gone as are the people about whom they are told. They affect for the moment. Others have reminders and affect a group of people for a long time. The story of Nick and Jim Adenhart is one of those.
Some may remember the story of Nick Adenhart, chronicled in many places as well as here: http://amusingreamus.blogspot.com/2009/04/prayer-for-jim-adenhart.html#comments. Jim’s son Nick was in an automobile accident with two friends several hours after pitching his first win of the season in April, the second of his young, major league life, and likely cementing a place in the starting rotation for the only organization for which he ever played. Before morning he was dead. So were two of his close friends. A third, a promising young college catcher, was so badly injured he will never play the game he loves so much again.
This weekend, Jim spent an hour or more with the Angel players and coaches. He continues to heal after four months after the loss of his son. Jim still lives in Hagerstown where Nick grew up in Maryland and while he still grieves for his son in his own private way, he saw the same in the team this week. It is the first time since the spring that he has seen them and the first time he has talked extensively about Nick and how he has coped with his loss.
Baseball is business. A place where players are bought and sold for the only purpose the teams exist: Winning. Yet somehow this is different. It is the death of a son, a co-worker, a friend. The Angel players and front office people, too still grieve for Nick. His picture, name, and number are on the outfield fence in Angel Stadium. It is common for players on the way to the bullpen to pat it for luck, or for an outfielder to write his name in the dirt of the warning track in front of it before taking up his position before the game begins. Nick’s locker is as he left it that night in April in the home clubhouse
The Adenharts were by no means a nuclear family. Jim and Nick’s mother Janet are divorced and Nick was Jim’s reason to exist for the past few years. He was invited to the game by Mike Scioscia, the Angel manager and the coaches and players who have kept in touch with him through these four months of what Jim readily admits have been torment. Jim copes with that by going to bereavement counseling and in the four months since it happened reading several books about the grieving process. He says that now and then he feels he has a handle on it but then something comes back from nowhere and sets him back again. This month it is the dreams that started a month ago and always it is the heartache that does not want to leave him. Jim knows there is no blueprint on how to deal with this. He is making his own way, but he is pleased by how much the Angel personnel have made it easier for him. He admits that when he walked into the clubhouse on Sunday he was taken aback to see his son’s locker and uniform shirt at first yet it helped Jim said, when he learned that the equipment managers still designate one in every visitors clubhouse as well. A road uniform, with Nick’s name and the number 34 on it, hangs in it as if awaiting his return. He appreciates how much it means to have the support of the players that knew him and the coaches who made it possible for Nick to dream and then succeed. He believes in the end, it is good that they are keeping his memory alive.
In those horrible hours after “the call” came to his hotel, two men stayed with Jim until he was ready to go home. Jim Butcher, the Angel’s pitching coach and Tim Mead, the vice president of communications are still in touch with him on a weekly basis. They have been super, Jim says, especially since he knows how much they have to think about besides him. They were in the waiting room when the surgeons gave him the news. They were there for support. They were there at the beginning and they still are.
After Nick’s death, the team suffered a series of injuries that left them reeling. The players say Nick’s loss was as hard to recover from as the injuries. They surged in July and August. As they did, Jim found it possible to become a fan again. He says it was hard at first, but he found himself checking the sports section, and then watching games, and now his interest in the team that took the gamble and gave his sore armed son the chance to succeed is rekindled. Jim Adenhart is an Angel fan forever.
Jim tries hard not to relive the past. On Nov 9th the trial of Andrew Thomas Gallo will begin in Orange County California. Jim has no intention of attending. He says he tries to harbor no resentment toward the man now charged with three counts of second degree murder and other charges which could send him to jail for as long as 50 years. Jim believes it was fate and that if it hadn’t been Nick, it would have been someone else. He has no reason to want to relive something he is trying so hard to forget.
Ironically, two weeks after he came home and buried his son, Jim had reason to remember. While driving through an intersection in Hagerstown, his car was hit, as Nick’s had been, by a pickup truck. He was two blocks from home. He suffered minor injuries. He says that something or someone told him to take evasive action, to hit the accelerator so he didn’t take the full brunt of the crash. Jim believes that and that belief helps keep him going.
In his eulogy, Jim said the happiest day of his life was the day Nick was born. To commemorate it, Nick’s home town of Hagerstown will name a Little League field after him this year. Jim says he is sure there will be as many blue crabs—Nick’s favorite food—consumed as there will be fond memories of his son.
Some men live 80 years and never touch as many people as Nick did in his brief life. For Jim right now that is both a blessing and a curse but it is how it is and he is learning to live with that.
On August 24, 2009, Nick Adenhart would have been 23 years old.
Ed note: The background for this piece was taken from the LA TIMES story of August 17, 2009, by Mike DiGiovanna. It is used by permission.