Remembering Nick Adenhart
The following is an excerpt from Safe at Home: A Season in the Valley, which I wrote in 2009 about a college summer league team, the New Market Rebels. Preparations were well under way for the Rebel season when Nick Adenhart, who happened to be from my home of Williamsport, MD was killed three years ago today in an auto accident hours after pitching the best game of his very brief career. Baseball is such a small world and the news of Nick’s death affected the folks in New Market, (VA) as well.
Willliamsport was devastated. With a population of approximately 2,300, it is slightly larger than New Market. Over 1,800 people turned out for a memorial service in the high school gym.
It is interesting how particularly we are affected when such tragedies befall our athletes. I have no doubt that it’s because they embody perhaps the most valuable commodity known to humankind: Hope. They are actually living out their childhood dreams. As such, those young men out there on the diamond are proof that Hope is real and that Dreams do come true. We can’t get enough of them and so we study how they bat and how they throw and we collect their signatures as proof that we were in the presence of one who Made It. Our childhood dreams live on through their accomplishments and when tragedy befalls them, we are reminded that we are not children anymore. And when tragedy befalls one who came from our town, who was one of us, and therefore, who lived and validated our dreams, the grief is that much more intense.
When Mo Weber discovered that Nick was from Williamsport, he called immediately to check on us.
“Mo,” I said, “at least Nick will always have his listing in the Baseball Encyclopedia and no one can ever take away that final box score.”
“That’s right,” said Mo almost fiercely, “that’s right.”
“Nick’s death really hit me when I was watching Brett Gardner [Gardner played for the Rebels in 2003 & 2004] come to bat for the Yankees,” said Bruce, “All I could think of was Adenhart. I know all the hoops that Brett had to jump through to get this far, all the hard work he had to put in and I’m sure it was the same for Nick. I can’t imagine not being able to celebrate Brett’s accomplishments . . .”
I wonder if the baseball players who pass through New Market or Los Angeles truly realize what they represent to the rest of us. I’m sure that many do on some sort of intellectual basis, but how can they really know the emotions that we’ve invested in them? They’ve never had to look to someone else to live their dreams for them. They’ve always been able to play ball better than any of their peers and I can imagine that they must wonder what all the fuss is about. Most people with a particular talent tend to take it for granted, because it comes naturally and seems indeed, to have been granted as a matter of course.
Baseball is a very small community. A tragedy that befalls just one person in it affects us all. We do what we can to cope and if we’re paying attention to the Way of the Universe, then the next time we play catch with our best friends or our dads or our daughters, we will take a moment and savor the joy of what we’re doing: We’ll watch the ball as it arcs across a blue sky and zips along the green grass, smell that glove, and sense our blood flowing through our arms. We won’t just stand in the sunshine, we’ll feel it on our faces, take it in, revel in it. We’ll laugh and run. This is how we best remember Nick Adenhart and Mark Fidrych and Harry Kalas and all of our heros, friends, and loved ones.
Baseball remembers by erecting monuments. Some are literal such as the plaques hanging on the hallowed halls at Cooperstown. Others are mere lines on a page, but they are monuments, nonetheless:
LA Angels IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA
Adenhart 6.0 7 0 0 3 5 0 0.00