Angels community grieves over Adenhart

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

FULLERTON, Calif. – The garden sprang from concrete and police tape, roses laid across daisies laid across orchids.

Candles glowed in the daylight, defiantly against a mid-afternoon breeze.

White feathers from arts-and-crafts angels wings fastened to a telephone pole loosened and tumbled across Orangethorpe Avenue at an intersection not 10 miles from Angel Stadium. A halo, made of a coat hanger and masking tape, clung to its mooring.

The street was clean, debris swept up or blown away in the 36 hours since Nick Adenhart and three friends left here dead, dying or in critical condition. A minivan driven by an allegedly drunk Andrew Thomas Gallo, 22, had blown through a red light and slammed into the car carrying Adenhart and his companions. Gallo has been charged with three counts of murder.

Addressed to Nick and his friends, notes were laid in among the baseballs and photos and bouquets.

"From all Dodgers fans, RIP."

"Courtney, we love you. Always sisters. Always love."

"Henry, you will be forever missed. Always, Heather and Tiffany."

The people, dozens of them, stopped and knelt and held hands. They wore Angels caps and Cal State Fullerton sorority hoodies and blue business suits.

They were touched by the passing not only of a young ballplayer, but also of his deceased friends Henry Pearson, 25, and Courtney Stewart, 20. Another young man, former Cal State Fullerton ballplayer John Wilhite, is in critical but stable condition. The mourners were sickened by the circumstances. So many cried.

Five hours later, the Angels stood along the third-base line and bowed their heads. They wore Adenhart's number – a white 34 against a black background – over their hearts. The flags in center field dangled at half-mast. A crowd bathed in red, some 40,000 people, stood behind them, quiet. Nick's parents, Jim and Janet, stood with them.

For nearly two days, the ballclub and its community had held to each other. Another concrete garden had come to life near the entrance to the ballpark. He was 22 years old and, while they'd seen him coming, they'd never really gotten to know him.

Now he was in their newspapers and on their evening news. He was on their outfield wall. And he was in the smiles of their own precious children, whom randomness and plain luck had so far and thankfully spared.

In this moment of silence, Los Angeles Angels along one line and Boston Red Sox along the other, you could imagine fathers reaching for their daughters' shoulders, moms pulling their sons tight.

The video montage was of Nick Adenhart, the promising pitcher. The photos on the board were of strangers, other people's smiling and unfortunate children. But the sorrow was shared. In that moment, no one could imagine another minute without them, as the stricken families must feel.

"Thank you," the public address announcer said finally, and then all but pleaded, "Let's play ball."

They'd try.

Two nights earlier, the Angels pitching coach's telephone rang. He was home. It was near closing time. The caller ID said, "NICK ADENHART."

He checked the time again.

"OK," he thought, "I'm going to have to go get Nick somewhere."

The voice, however, was not Nick's. It was Jim Adenhart's.

Nick, he said, had been in a car accident. He was in critical condition at UC Irvine Medical Center.

Still, Mike Butcher said, "I wasn't thinking the worst."

He dressed and met Jim at the hospital, where they sat in a waiting room and spoke until it was going on dawn. Jim told stories about his days in the Secret Service. Butcher told Jim about Nick the developing big league pitcher, the weeks leading to the six shutout innings he'd thrown Wednesday night, and the conversations they'd had during and after it, while in an operating room doctors searched desperately for functioning organs. At the end they'd gone together to the morgue, where Nick's father and Nick's pitching coach identified him as, yes, their son and friend.

Hours before, Butcher and Nick would have their last substantial conversation. They'd worked all spring at having the ball roll off Nick's fingertips just so.

When he came off the mound for the last time, the very last time, Nick smiled and said to his coach, "Butch, I got it."

"That," Butcher said, "was a pretty special moment, to see a kid figure it out that early and understand it and own it."

Then, seemingly in an instant, he was standing with that kid's father, over that kid's body, praying.

About 20 years ago, Butcher had his stepbrother – "my best friend" – die in a car crash. He was a year younger than Adenhart.

"Numbing," he said.

Now the Angels have each other. And they have the calendar. The days will pass, an inch at a time. No one will come back to the locker on the far wall, where the pitchers dress and pass the time. The gear inside won't ever move.

In the hours before they'd play the Red Sox on Friday night, they'd tried to sort through what they could. A friend gone, a season to play, and how those things could possibly coexist.

On Thursday morning, Dustin Moseley, perhaps Adenhart's closest friend on the team, had received a text message from his younger brother.

"Sorry to hear about Nick," the first he'd heard about it.

On Friday afternoon, Moseley's eyes were still red and swollen.

"He had style," Moseley said.

He sighed.

"It takes you out of the bubble you think you're in," he said. "Tomorrow could be my last day. What kind of impact am I making?"

A day earlier in Chicago, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen had been asked about Adenhart. He said, "You're not invincible," and that's what they're all thinking. They'd met Adenhart's father, witnessed his unspeakable pain, hugged him.

"I can't even explain how I felt, to see that," Moseley said. "I had to bury my dad. But I couldn't imagine burying my son.

"I've seen in a lot of guys' eyes, 'Wow, these kinds of things aren't supposed to happen.' "

In a way, the Angels had said goodbye. Adenhart had pitched so well. They'd shaken his hand. They'd told him they were proud of him. They'd smiled, even in defeat, knowing what it had meant to him.

Now they get through today, see what tomorrow will be like, get through that day, too. They'll play the games when they come, get through those, too. Follow the calendar, follow the schedule, and that's it. Maybe they heal a little. Maybe a garden springs from nowhere.

"We move forward," manager Mike Scioscia said. "It'll happen on its own time."

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