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Adenhart covered all his bases

May 24, 2004|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

Nick Adenhart learned at an early age that diversity is the key to being a success.

When he picked pitching as his chosen craft and aimed to become a major leaguer, the ability to choose from three pitches - a fastball, a curve and a changeup - separated him from most everyone else.

The value of diversity will be tested again by Adenhart after being diagnosed this week with a torn elbow ligament that will require surgery. Now, instead of the possibility of being one of the first 10 players being selected in the June 7 amateur baseball draft, Williamsport's star pitcher will be weighing alternate scenarios he must use until he can take another shot at professional baseball.

The ultimate would have been getting the call from a Major League team and starting an uncharted trek that led to standing on the mound at Yankee Stadium or Camden Yards. The impending "Tommy John" surgery put those aspirations on hold, but planning kept the unfortunate circumstances from putting Adenhart's life right next to them.

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"This would have been devastating if Nick had put all his eggs in one basket," said Duane Gigeous, Adenhart's stepfather. "As a group, we went after Nick's dream - to get drafted in the Top 10. But in the back of our heads, we planned to give Nick as many alternatives as possible. He worked to keep his grades up and to keep his nose clean. He stayed in touch with North Carolina. It was all to give him as many options as possible."

Adenhart never had a "baseball or bust attitude" about the circumstances that surrounded him. Instead, he used them to his advantage.

For the last two years, the right-hander had been the target of major league scouts. They flocked to Adenhart's games in force every time he took the mound. Adenhart was considered to be the second best high school player in the country by Baseball America and won the last two Gatorade Player of the Year honors in Maryland, adding to credentials which include a 95-mph fastball and an earned run average near 1.00 for his two seasons at Williamsport.

It all changed when he threw a curveball on May 11, which produced a pop in his elbow and tore the ligament. Now, his choice to sign a letter-of-intent to attend the University of North Carolina is more than a formality. Instead, it becomes the best option to rehabilitate the elbow - which will be operated on next month - while getting ready to pitch for the Tar Heels for the next three years before returning for another shot at the amateur draft in 2007.

"I had a plan with plenty of options open," Adenhart said. "Now I'll go for surgery, go to North Carolina and go after the dream of pitching in the Major Leagues again."

The Adenhart battle plan was a joint venture mapped out by Adenhart, his mother and father and Gigeous, who jokingly refers to the three-parent system as "the three-headed monster Nick deals with."

While many considered Adenhart's pick in the draft inevitable, Team Adenhart made plans just in case something - like an injury - came up. An education at a school that Adenhart liked with the possibility of pitching in a strong college league against good competition was paramount.

They even obtained an insurance policy through Lloyds of London, just in case something unforseen happened to prevent Adenhart from ever pitching again.

With the injury, the options were reduced to one clear path. After surgery in Birmingham, Ala., next month, Adenhart will get his rehab instructions from Dr. James Andrews and begin his comeback, which will probably take a year until he reaches a full recovery. He will start working at home before heading to North Carolina, where he will spend a redshirt season while strengthening his arm.

After that, Adenhart plans to pitch for North Carolina and then, if all goes well, take another shot at becoming a top pick in the amateur draft.

"It would have been hard to decide to take the money if I would have been drafted high and to turn down Carolina," Adenhart said. "I would have missed out on continuing my education and the camaraderie of playing for the team. The percentage of recovery rate is high. They say 85 percent of them come back to pitch and are better than they were. Going to Carolina will make that easier."

North Carolina became a comfortable option to fall back on since the initial draft plans went awry. Adenhart knows what he's getting into by going to school, while heading straight into professional baseball was too much of an unknown.

"The minors are so sketchy," Adenhart said. "Most of the teams in the minors are in cities you would never want to vacation in and you are on a team, but not really on a team. I would be on a team, but actually competing against the other pitchers on the team to get ahead.

"Going to Carolina, this will be a recovery with a purpose. It will have a team goal - to be able to pitch for North Carolina. Besides, I'd miss out on all the co-eds. I hear 75 percent of the students down there are girls. ... I might find my future wife."

Adenhart also hopes to rediscover his blazing fastball and other pitching options. Meanwhile, he wants to keep the two things that he discovered in his whole ordeal - his friendships and maturity.

"There are so many people I want to thank," Adenhart said. "I will be sitting down and trying to write them all. My (Williamsport) teammates have been great, helping me get to all these things I've had for the last two years. And there are all the people who have been concerned and called, too. We really appreciate it."

Most of all, Adenhart proved to himself that he's a man of his word.

"I kept telling the people around me that no matter what happened, I was going to be the same person that I was," he said. "Even with all this, I proved to myself that I'm the same guy. I haven't changed."

That was the only thing that wasn't an option in Nick Adenhart's quest for a major league baseball career.

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