By Angelswin.com Photographer & Contributor - Phillip Richmond
Like for all Angels fans, the day Nick Adenhart was announced dead after being hit by a drunk driver, killing two others and seriously injuring another, it has just been a shock, almost unbelievable that he's gone. Here are the thoughts that I wrote on the day Nick went from being heavenly on the mound to supernatural in high places:
I was awoken by a text from my friend Mike, who goes to as many Midwest League games as I do. When I read his text I couldn’t believe it and thought it was just a joke of poor taste. But when I saw that I had several more texts from friends, telling me about what had happened, my day living in shock had begun.
Perhaps the reason I still can’t believe it is because when things like this happen you don’t expect it to be one of your favorite players, so you're not sure how you deal with it. The fact that Nick finally had his moment in just his fourth game may have added to the effect, as well. It was this moment I had been waiting three years to see and was really looking forward to seeing some point this season when the Angels come to my area of the country.
During the quick few months that Nick was in Cedar Rapids, I had gotten to know him. The connection started the same way it has with other players; I’ll have photos and sometimes other items for players to sign and when they finish signing, I give them a CD with all photos I took of them and maybe some copies of the photos I had them sign. Sometimes the players are more grateful for me giving them photos than I am for them signing. Many times this results in players giving me equipment or even money voluntarily in exchange for the photos, which they often forward to loved ones back home.
Eventually it got to the point where I would chat with him about anything, from baseball to life, when he would be sitting in the stands charting during his off days. I was more impressed with his personality than I was with his playing ability. While watching the news coverage on the incident, I have not heard one thing that in any way contradicts what I’d experienced when talking to him. When I heard Brad Coon speak of his humor on Baseball Tonight, I was reminded of the time during a cold April night here in Iowa when I was sitting near the Kernels dugout, talking to Tommy Mendoza’s parents while Nick was sitting behind home plate charting. A little kid approached Mr. Mendoza and called him an expletive in Spanish. When Mendoza replied in astonishment, “What?” the kid pointed to Nick, who had a huge grin on his face, and told Mr. Mendoza, “He told me to say that to you.”
Shortly after Nick was promoted from Cedar Rapids, he was selected to the All-Star Futures Game. My dad and I had considered making the drive to Pittsburgh to go to the game, but now we were sure we had to go. Prior to leaving for Pittsburgh, we went to the Kernels shop and bought a Kernels No. 21 jersey, because if I was ever sure of one player that would succeed in the Majors, it was Nick and I wanted him to sign the jersey. Like all Futures Game participants, Nick made his way down the foul line to sign autographs. Unfortunately, he was signing on the World team’s side of the field while I was getting autographs of future stars like Stephen Drew on the USA side. After making my way over to the World side, I stuck the jersey out for him to sign. He immediately looked up with a huge smile and said “Hey man! How are you doing? Good to see you out here!” While Nick continued to sign for fans, we chatted a little to catch up on the past month before Nick had to take off to wait in the bullpen for his opportunity to shine. Nick did not get the call in the game, but I still enjoyed the game.
I was only able to meet up with him once more, this time in 2008 when Salt Lake came to Iowa. When he told me he’d be pitching the next day, I knew I had to make the two hour drive again to see him pitch. The dominating Nick Adenhart that I had seen two years prior was just not there on the mound that day, much like he was not after being called up to the Majors in May. Talking to him after the game, it just seemed like the rough 2008 he had was mentally wearing him down.
During my trip to Arizona last month I was lucky enough to see Nick pitch two solid games. He was back. I did not make it a priority to greet him this time around, but I now wish I had.
Just a couple of hours ago my shock turned into sadness. Maybe it’s been building from me looking at that signed Kernels No. 21 jersey on my wall. Maybe it was that Angels cap that I took off after coaching some pitchers at my high school today, working on making their curveballs get the sharp and nasty 12-6 break like Nick had. Or even because that hat reminds me of the only reason I really follow the Angels as one of my teams, second to the Cubs — Nick.
It's been a while since I've watched the movie "Field of Dreams," but after thinking about the tragedy, I was reminded of the film. I chose to watch "Field of Dreams" because this whole thing has reminded me of Doc “Moonlight” Graham. Moonlight had made it to the Major Leagues, but never really lived out his dream. At the Field of Dreams, Moonlight accomplished his dream and then was no longer able to do more. Unfortunately for Nick, it wasn’t by his choice. In the movie, after Graham left his dream, he was walking toward the cornfield and then he was stopped by Shoeless Joe Jackson who said, "Hey rookie! You were good."