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Pitcher's path thrown a curve

May 23, 2004|By BOB PARASILITI

Nick Adenhart has pitched long enough in his young career to know a game can change on one pitch.

Now, Williamsport's star pitcher realizes the same pitch can alter a life and dreams, too.

It was a curveball on May 11 - one he vividly remembers - that ultimately changed the projected path Adenhart will follow in the next month, the next year, the next three years and possibly the rest of his life. It was the one pitch he threw, tearing the ligament in his right pitching arm to effectively knock him off major league draft lists while placing him on a surgical waiting list.

Adenhart will undergo "Tommy John" surgery - the reconstructive procedure that has revolutionized the repair of broken pitching arms - by Dr. James Andrews next month in Birmingham, Ala., days after graduating from Williamsport High School.

"It wasn't anybody's fault. It just happened," Adenhart said Saturday while confirming the need for surgery, which ended a week of speculation about his condition after he walked off the mound in the first inning against South Hagerstown in his last start.

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In the one split second, everything changed. Before that one pitch, the right-hander was projected to be one of the first 10 players to be taken in June 7's amateur baseball draft. After the pitch - and the impending surgery - he will be an incoming freshman with a baseball scholarship at the University of North Carolina.

"The last couple weeks have been less stressful," Adenhart admits. "It was kind of fun."

May 11 was like any other day in the last year for Adenhart as he prepared for his scheduled turn to pitch in the MVAL Antietam finale against the Rebels.

"At the start of the game, there was no problem with my arm at all," said Adenhart, who was speaking for the first time since the injury. "I never had any problems with my arm at all, but my elbow was a little sore after my last start."

The usual throng of major league scouts turned out for Adenhart's last pitching performance. The group typically ranged from 10 to 30 members, armed with stopwatches, radar guns and notepads all geared to chart the pitcher's progress and project his development as a professional baseball player.

Around his 15th pitch into the outing, Adenhart set down South's Patrick Hutzler with a curveball. It was one of the pitches he threw to offset his 90-95 mph fastball. It was his normal, late-breaking pitch which usually came in at around 85 mph and baffled opposing hitters.

"It was the third strike on the second batter," Adenhart said. "I felt a pop on the curveball. It was just like the joint loosened up a bit."

Adenhart decided to test the arm and pitched to South's David Miner, a friend from their days on the PONY League All-Star team. In that sequence, Adenhart realized something had gone wrong.

"Then with David up, I threw a couple of pitches and I hit him," Adenhart said. "It didn't hurt. It was just a discomfort. I said to myself that I was going to quit because I was only going to cause more damage."

Adenhart signaled to Williamsport coach Rod Steiner, who knew something had to be wrong if his top pitcher wanted to give up the ball.

"I knew I had more damage," Adenhart said. "I heard that once the ligament breaks, it can cause more damage to the structure of the arm. It could have been easy to get caught up in the situation and keep throwing, but Coach Steiner always kept me focused on the main goal - to get me drafted in the top 10. I was always the one who was looking at the short term. He was the one taking me out in the fifth and sixth inning to save my arm while I was the one who wanted to extend my pitch count."

It became the last time Adenhart would pitch in his high school career. Since May 11, he hasn't added to his 11-2 record in his two seasons at Williamsport nor has he improved on an earned run average which hovered around 1.00. He was 5-1 with a 0.91 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings this season.

Everything began almost immediately for Adenhart.

He sensed the dream of being on Major League Baseball's most wanted list was about to end.

"I guess it was like you had your childhood dream at your fingertips and then sitting there and watching it get smashed right in front of you," Adenhart said. "That night, after that at the game, it all became so surreal."

Adenhart said his Wildcats teammates and their families came over to encourage him and see if there was anything they could do to help.

"Everybody was and has been great to me," he said. "(My family) is thankful and very grateful."

The next few days were used to physically confirm the fact that Adenhart knew in his heart. His elbow was injured and his dream of being drafted into professional baseball was about to be altered.

Adenhart was examined by local orthopedic physician Thomas Amalfitano, who diagnosed the elbow tear. He suggested a trip to Birmingham to get Andrews' opinion on the injury.

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