Nick Adenhart, seven years later and forever an Angel

Nick Adenhart, per
Nick Adenhart, per /

It doesn’t feel like it was seven years ago.

More from LA Angels News

Was it that long ago? I remember flipping on SportsCenter to watch some highlights the morning after I had watched Nick Adenhart pitch against the Oakland A’s in Anaheim.

And there was that bright red “BREAKING NEWS” icon ESPN uses so often.

Adenhart, the quiet but determined 22-year-old, was killed in a car crash along with two others. Another was in critical condition.

The crash was caused by an intoxicated motorist who ran a red light and blindsided the car Adenhart and the three others were in.

Police explained that Adenhart died in surgery at the University of California, Irvine Medical Center. Henry Pearson, a 25-year-old passenger in the car, and the driver, 20-year-old Courtney Stewart, were pronounced dead at the scene.

The third passenger was 24-year-old Jon Wilhite. He suffered an internal decapitation and wasn’t initially expected to survive. If he were to survive, the concern was that he would be quadriplegic.

Through rigorous rehab and a determination seen by few, he has full use of his entire body and currently works with his father in the freight-shipping business.

His ties to the Angels are strong. A former catcher in college, he’s thrown out multiple first pitches and was invited to join the team last spring as an assistant coach.

But he also has trouble living in the aftermath of that night. Especially because he had just been watching his friend living his dream, and doing it well, a few hours prior.

It was such an exciting game and Adenhart was working it.

Six innings and no earned runs. He gave up seven hits and walked three, but was finding ways to get guys out. He never faltered under the pressure of having guys on base and seemed in-line to get the victory with the Angels up 3-0 when he left after the end of the sixth inning.

When the Angels scored another to make it 4-0 in the seventh, I really got excited for him.

He had moved up the ladder humbly, spending four years in the Minors where he compiled a 37-28 record and a 3.87 ERA in 90 starts. His “stuff” was developing quickly, too, and the pitches he had used to strike out 430 in the farm system were fooling Oakland’s batters.

This was the same team he had made his debut against the year before. That outing didn’t exactly go as planned.

Adenhart managed to get a no-decision in his Major League debut, where he only lasted two innings, allowing five earned runs and five walks with no strikeouts. The Angels lost 15-8.

“He grew as much as any person I’ve been around in the past four years.” -Mike Scioscia

“I let down the team first,” Adenhart said following the game. “You always want to go out and prove yourself to your teammates, your manager and your coaches. I was a disappointment to myself also.”

The then-21-year-old settled down a little in his next (and only) two Big League starts of that year but he still walked eight and gave up seven earned runs in a total of 10 innings pitched.

He worked on his mechanics for the rest of the 2008 season in the Minors and came into the 2009 season ready to show improvements. And he did.

But the Angels bullpen found a way to spoil his first start of the year. Remember that 4-0 lead in the seventh? Well, Jose Arredondo, Scot Shields, and Brian Fuentes found a way to allow a combined six runs and eight hits in the final two frames and the Angels lost 6-4.

After that game, Adenhart said he was happy with his performance and that “the fire’s definitely there” in terms of the improvements he had seen in himself.

Adenhart would have been 30 at the end of this season.

It’s still a wonder what he could have become. What he should have become.

Adenhart was a top prospect for the Angels and was in a rotation that included John Lackey, Joe Saunders, and Ervin Santana.

Had he found his rhythm in the 2009 season, he could have become a staple in the rotation, much like Jered Weaver has. At this point, he would have been a veteran of the game. Maybe he would have helped the rotation, maybe he would have been traded away.

Who knows.

One of the best things about baseball is that every day, the same game is played but the outcome is always different. A guy can go from throwing a no-hitter to allowing six runs in his next start. Another can walk five, five days before throwing a perfect game.

Baseball is unpredictable, but no one could’ve predicted the loss of a young man and his friends on the eve that he was turning a corner in life.

Angels fans will always wonder what could have been, but at least they can remember what was.

A young man who was able to fulfill a lifelong dream of pitching at the Major League level, a humble man who understood that working and learning will get you to that dream.

It’s been seven years, but truly doesn’t feel that long. For fans of the Angels, Adenhart will always be missed.