Tragic end to a bright future

Philip George / Roundup

As Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round the World” propelled the Giants to the World Series, Dodger fans’ hearts sank. It was tragic.

As Mookie Wilson’s grounder dribbled up the line and through Bill Buckner’s legs, Red Sox fans looked on in horror. It was tragic.

And as Steve Bartman ensured the Cubs’ “curse” would reach 95 years without a championship, the Chicago faithful were outraged. It was tragic.

But to awaken Thursday morning to the jarring news that Nick Adenhart, the 22-year-old former Angels’ top prospect, had passed away after a deadly hit-and-run accident in Fullerton, puts things in perspective.

No matter how emotionally invested you are in a team, in a game, it is just that — a game. You lose the game of baseball and you come back the next day or next season with another chance at victory. You lose the game of life and there is no next day or next season. That is a true tragedy.

Adenhart’s death is not just a blow to the Angels’ rotation or to Major League Baseball. We as baseball fans may have only known Adenhart the pitcher, but one must never forget that he or any other athlete has the same impact on the lives of others as you or I do. Aside from 24 other men on Anaheim’s roster who considered Adenhart a beloved friend as well as a teammate, Adenhart is survived by parents Jim and Janet.

Imagine the thoughts of Jim Adenhart, who recieved a phone call from Nick prior to the pitcher’s season debut, summoning him from Baltimore to Anaheim because “something special” was about to happen. Jim complied with his son’s wishes and was rewarded by witnessing his best pitching performance to date. In just his fourth major league start, Nick threw six scoreless innings against the Oakland Athletics. After the game, Jim and Nick — father and son — shared the moment together, something special indeed. Mere hours later, Jim’s only son was gone.

But why? Adenhart did nothing wrong. Neither did Courtney Stewart, Henry Pearson or John Wilhite, all in the car with him. Four innocent friends were simply headed to a club to dance and to celebrate the pitching performance of a lifetime.

Shortly after midnight, however, the silver Mitsubishi carrying the group was struck by a minivan. Stewart and Pearson were pronounced dead at the scene, while Adenhart died at the University of California, Irvine Medical Center where Wilhite remains.The driver of the minivan was 22-year-old Andrew Thomas Gallo, who was apprehended by police a mile away from the crash scene with a blood alcohol level well above the legal limit. Gallo’s records revealed he was driving on a suspended license and had a previous DUI on file.And now, because a young and stupid kid got behind the wheel under the influence again, he has three lives on his conscience. He has the grief of several thousands of others on his conscience. He has the fact that he ruined what had the prospects to be sparkling major league career on his conscience. And yet, his life goes on while Adenhart’s does not.

Even in the wake of this tragedy, reckless behavior like Gallo’s still persists. Drivers continue to cruise the roads with alcohol fresh on their breath, teenagers continue to drag race on the highways, uncaring about the fact they are playing not only with their own lives, but also the lives of others. According to the California Highway Patrol, four Californians lose their lives to alcohol-related crashes each day. How many more innocent people need to perish before society opens its eyes?
Now is a time for people across the country — whether they are baseball fans or not — to come together and grieve this loss. To see Adenhart’s agent, Scott Boras, the target of so much hatred and negativity throughout the recently concluded offseason, reduced to tears during the Angels’ official news conference on Thursday reminds us that away from the game of baseball, we are all human beings, each life just as important as the next and each loss just as devastating.
Rest in peace, Nick.

5/12/08 (Courtesy of Angels Baseball)

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