ANAHEIM, Calif. – A year ago today, Eddie Bane, the Los Angeles Angels scouting director, drove west on Interstate 10 between Lafayette, La. and Beaumont, Texas.
That's when his phone rang. He wondered why Janet Gigeous would be calling at that time of morning. She was the mother of Nick Adenhart.
A year ago today, Mike Butcher, the Angels pitching coach, slumped in a hospital waiting room, silently praying, refusing to believe the morning would end in the worst, nodding to the man across from him, Jim Adenhart. He was Nick's dad.
That's when the doctor walked in.
Nick Adenhart was dead.
The memorial of flowers and candles grew and breathed on the front promenade at Angel Stadium all summer and into fall. John Carpino, who was to become team president, became its unofficial caretaker. The tribute from Angels fans, from Adenhart's friends, from people who simply could not see the sense in Adenhart's death, was removed over time. And yet on opening day, two bouquets of yellow flowers had been laid in the same place, as though they'd sprouted from beneath the concrete, celebrating a new season and the lives that were left.
A year ago today, Bane turned off the radio, steadied his hands on the wheel and continued west.
"I just stayed on the road and kept crying," Bane said. "I don't know where that came from. I'm not that kind of guy."
Wilson, who played so many seasons with Adenhart, caught so many of his games, had spent the night before at SkyBox Sports Grille and Arena in Salt Lake City with outfielder Brad Coon, another pal of Nick's. It was Bobby's 26th birthday and what he most wanted was to see Nick pitch on television against the Oakland A's. Nick threw six shutout innings.
"I was so happy," Wilson said. "So happy for him and everybody surrounding him."
Before Jim Adenhart used his son's cell phone to awake Butcher well after midnight, Butcher had laid down with Nick in his head. The young man is getting it, Butcher thought. He is getting it.
"He still had a lot to learn," Butcher said. "But it was going to be a fun ride."
Nick's locker at Angel Stadium is filled with reliever Kevin Jepsen's(notes) stuff. His picture was removed from the outfield wall. His jersey does not hang from a hook in their dugout. His number – a white 34 against a black background – is no longer sewn into their uniforms, near their hearts.
He is not gone. Not today. Not any day. He does not pitch for them, but they are sure he laughs at their silly jokes, and cheers their scoreless innings, and wishes them a happy birthday.
And still, Wilson said of turning 27, "You're supposed to celebrate it."
Last week, attorneys for Andrew Thomas Gallo requested a change of venue for a trial scheduled for late July in Orange County. Gallo has pleaded not guilty to three counts of murder, driving under the influence of alcohol and driving with a suspended license. Two hours after the crash at an intersection in Fullerton near Angel Stadium – by then Courtney Stewart and Henry Pearson were dead, Adenhart was dying and Jon Wilhite was being treated for internal decapitation – Gallo's blood alcohol content read .19, nearly 2½ times the legal definition of drunk. Police say they first had to chase Gallo, who they claim ran from the crash and its victims.
At about the time Gallo's lawyers filed their motion, friends and family and former teammates of Nick's gathered at a ballpark in Scottsdale, Ariz. They were there to watch Henry Gigeous, Nick's half brother, a pitcher like Nick, only 16 and a sophomore at a Chicago-area high school. Already he is a prospect.
The dozen or so people who could not avert their blurry eyes from Henry decided he stood in the outfield and long-tossed like Nick, warmed up like Nick, tugged on his sleeve like Nick, cut a lanky presence on the mound like Nick. They'd come from Angels camp to see, and from Chicago, and from the surrounding Phoenix area. Bane drove in from Las Vegas, five hours away.
"I had no real reason other than I felt like I was drawn to it," he said.
In the bleachers at Horizon High School, they leaned into Henry's day, and clung to their own.
"It was so weird to see him pitch," Wilson said. "It was like Nick doing it."
Evening fell, and Bane was glad for it.
"It really was a lot harder to do than I thought it would be," he said. "But, in the dark at Horizon High School, you can get teared up and nobody really notices."
Friday night at Angel Stadium, before the Angels opened their series against the A's, Jered Weaver(notes) would receive the Nick Adenhart Award for the team's pitcher of the year. Weaver and Adenhart were to have shared an apartment last season.
A year ago today, that's when everything changed.
"I still try to get through some days," Wilson said. "I'm still looking for the whys and the how comes. Man, we had so many good times together."
Butcher, the pitching coach, received a text from Nick's father, Jim, recently. He was wishing him luck for the new season. Many times last season, Butcher would have his wife drop him off at the ballpark, but not at the players' entrance. He wanted to walk past the flowers and the candles, so she'd pull around the front, leave him there.
"I think about his family, hoping they can have peace," Butcher said. "And I think about him every day."
- Nick Adenhart
- Mike Butcher