On April 8, 2009 Los Angeles Angels 22 year old pitcher Nick Adenhart walked off the mound after pitching a gem of a game. Little did he or anyone know it would be the last start of his life.
The Los Angeles Angels were coming off back-to-back AL Western Division titles in 2007 and 2008. The 2009 season was supposed to be the year the Angels would make it over the hump and return to the World Series for the first time since 2002.
Rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart was to be an important part of the Angels rotation as the third starter. Things looked really good as Adenhart handcuffed the Oakland A’s for six innings giving up no runs in six innings of work and striking out five batters.
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Adenhart ended up getting a no-decision as the Angel bullpen gave up the 2-0 lead he left with before winning in extra innings. However, Adenhart still had a reason to celebrate as his third career Major League start was by far his best one. Unfortunately there would be no more.
Adenhart and three of his friends Henry Pearson, Courtney Stewart, a Cal State Fullerton cheerleader, and Jon Wilhite a CSUF baseball player decided to go out together in downtown Fullerton to celebrate. They left downtown Fullerton in a Mitsubishi Eclipse a little after midnight and were broadsided by a Toyota Sienna that had run a red light. The driver fled the scene and was arrested. He was found to have a .18 blood alcohol level which is more than double the legal limit.
What was left behind was tragic. Pearson and Stewart were pronounced dead on the scene and Adenhart died shortly thereafter at the UCI Medical Center where he and his friend Jon Wilhite were taken following the accident.
Wilhite has since made close to a full recovery, but I’m sure the memory still lingers. Wilhite was given the opportunity by Angel manager Mike Scioscia to come to the Angels Spring Training came in 2015 to be a guest instructor. This was the only silver lining to this story.
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Things like this happen almost every day where a drink driver makes a life-changing decision to get behind the wheel and it costs someone else who is an innocent victim, in this case three innocent victims (Pearson, Stewart, and Adenhart), to lose their lives. In addition Jon Wilhite’s life was changed forever on April 9, 2009. It was a huge tragedy and it affected the whole Angel organization from the front office, to the players, and the fans as well.
Thinking back to that day and the ones that follow, what struck me the most was the way the players and fans responded and rallied around the memory of Nick Adenhart and his family as well as the other families of the other two victims. There was a shrine that formed later that day in front of Angel Stadium and was maintained by the Angel staff.
The team immediately began wearing an Adenhart patch and honored Adenhart by putting a replica of his number 34 patch on the right-centerfield wall shortly thereafter. The Angel players did their part by hanging an Adenhart jersey in the dugout for every game that year and pitchers like Jered Weaver drew Adenhart’s initials in the dirt behind the mound before every start.
One final tribute that I will always remember will be the Angels bringing Adenhart’s jersey onto the field and spraying it with champagne like he was still there wearing it, upon clinching the AL West Title in 2009. They then proceeded to the right-centerfield wall and started pounding the replica patch of Adenhart in memory of their fallen teammate. Moments later, they took their celebratory picture next to that same patch.
The Angels have also honored Adenhart’s family before a game as well as the other families. Wilhite was able to throw out the first pitch before a game, and as mentioned before he was invited to be an instructor during the 2015 Spring Training camp.
As writers and fans we do not always agree with every move that Angel manager Mike Scioscia makes or owner Moreno for that matter. However, in the case of how the Angels handled the aftermath of this tragic event, in my opinion they did things right. To me this is much more important than wins and losses. RIP Nick Adenhart you and your friends will be in our hearts forever.