On April 8, 2009. Nick Adenhart made his fourth big league start. It was his first start of the young season. He hadn’t fared to well in in his brief cameo in 2008, but the Angels had faith in the young man’s stuff, and the fans had faith in the young man as well. And when he took the mound, on that April evening, the fans were in for a treat, and one fan in particular.
Adenhart’s agent, the much despised Scott Boras, had flown in Nick’s father for that game. According to Boras, he had a feeling that something special was going to happen. A packed house was already pumped up for Nick’s start, and with his dad in the house, the 22 year-old rookie delivered.
Six innings, five strikeouts, zero runs. His sixth and final inning of the night became the stuff of legend. Seven pitches, all of them strikes. Everything had gone right for the 14th round pick out of Williamsport, MD. But it was the last time that everything would be as it should be.
On April 9, 2009, I had no aspirations to be a blogger. I read some blogs, but was mostly oblivious to the world as it was at the time. I had followed along the night before, and was heartbroken when Brian Fuentes blew the game that Adenhart had pitched so well in. But that heartbreak was small potatoes compared to the gut-wrenching news that awaited me when I fired up my computer the next morning.
Any Angels fan who was a fan then, knows the feeling that I am talking about. Your stomach knotted up. Your breath was caught halfway between your lungs and your mouth. No words could be spoken. It was as if expelling them would shatter the hope that maybe what you were reading about was a hoax. A sick hoax, but a hoax nonetheless. But it was all real. All too real. Nick Adenhart had been in a car accident mere hours after pitching the game of his life. And a few hours later, he was gone. Dead at the age of 22.
Along with Adenhart, the names of Henry Pearson, Courtney Stewart and the lucky-to-be-alive Jon Wilhite were seared into our brains. White-hot hate surfaced when the name “Andrew Gallo” was mentioned around us. Reminders of both talent and, more importantly, youth lost in the blink of an eye. Lost in the millisecond between the decision to stay or go. Lost forever.
Lost also was how players and professionals associated with Nick both handled, and likewise, couldn’t handle what was happening. Dustin Moseley broke down in the conference room. Mike Butcher maintained some semblance of composure. Even Boras couldn’t hold in the emotion that overtook him while answering questions about a special young man. Another story that surfaced a few days later, was that Adenhart was set to move in with another young starter for the Angels, Jered Weaver.
The move never happened.
You couldn’t tell by his performance, but Weaver let his emotions show in other ways. The Angels had placed a memorial on the outfield wall at the Big-A of Adenhart. Before every start, Weaver went back to the wall, said a few words, gave the picture a tap, and went to work. But the memorial eventually came down. What didn’t go away, was the pitcher’s mound. Another spot where Weaver kept Adenhart close. How, so? Well, every single start that Weaver has made since that day, Weaver has etched two letters into the dirt behind the rubber, “NA.” The only time Weaver hasn’t done this was his start after Dr. Lewis Yocum died. Four-plus years later, and Weaver still keeps the memory of Nick close. And earlier today, Weaver made sure that Nick’s memory stayed even closer.
First, Angels beat reporter, Alden Gonzalez, tweeted this:
Is "Aden" in tribute to Nick Adenhart in some way? Would have to ask Jered. Wouldn't surprise me, though. #Angels
— Alden Gonzalez (@Alden_Gonzalez) July 6, 2013
It matched up, right? It was the only possible explanation. But it wasn’t confirmed. Until Eric Kay tweeted this:
The Weavers did in fact spell the child's name "Aden" in honor of Nick Adenhart. #Angels
— Eric Kay (@EKayAngels) July 6, 2013
Aden Weaver was born earlier today, and Jered Weaver absolutely took the opportunity to name his first son after his fallen friend.
Jered Weaver, as a player, has done as much as you possibly could do to endear himself the Angels fanbase. He pitched like an Ace while manning the number two spot behind John Lackey. Instead of going into free agency, he signed a five-year $85MM extension. A massive discount considering how many 10′s of millions he left on the table had he opted to go into free agency. He then became the Ace of the staff, and pitched as well as any Angels pitcher who had graced the mound of the Big-A before him. Adding his name to a list of elite starters that reads like a who’s-who of Angels pitchers.
And now this. Weaver makes it impossible to not like him. An Angel through and through, and, in my opinion with this news, loyal to his very core.
He, like fans, has never forgotten about the kid from Maryland who was supposed to be a top pick, but fell in the draft thanks to an Ulnar Collateral Ligament tear. A kid who worked his way through the organization. And then, after being hittable in his first taste of the big leagues, made his way back to the Show. A kid who’s lasting legacy is a final inning pitched. An inning where he threw seven pitches, all of them strikes. A kid who’s memory now lives on in the form of a child born to his friend, a friend who never forgot about him. A friend who continues to honor him whenever he gets the chance to stand on a mound. Because life is not guaranteed. But memory can be. All memory needs is for someone to not forget. And like us fans, Jered Weaver never forgot. He never…forgot.