Adenhart armed, is ready to pitch

June 19, 2005|by BOB PARASILITI

TEMPE, ARIZ. - Nick Adenhart celebrated an anniversary on Friday, but he didn't throw a party.

Instead, he threw pitches - up to 30 of them.

Last June 17, Adenhart stood poised at an early crossroads of his young career. After spending his high school career as one of the most promising prospective Major League pitchers in the country while at Williamsport High School, he was undergoing what could have been career-altering - and maybe life-altering - surgery on his prized right elbow.

The celebration kicked off Thursday. Adenhart was on the mound in Tempe, Ariz., where he was scheduled to throw 30 pitches in a Los Angeles Angels extended spring training game. It was his second taste of competitive pitching since his surgery.

Adenhart isn't ready to pop the cork on a bottle of champagne just yet. But he's very content just to be able to use the ice bucket on his surgically repaired arm.


"I guess this would be (a reason to celebrate)," Adenhart said via telephone from the Angels spring training site. "This could have been a huge setback, but I'm happy with the way things worked out."

The only thing that would have been better is if it would have never happened.

Dream takes a detour

It looked like Adenhart's career was about to come crashing down around him on May 11, 2004, when he felt something pop in his right elbow after throwing a first-inning curveball against South Hagerstown.

On that one pitch - a pitch he had thrown so many times before - everything Adenhart had been working for was about to change.

He dreamed about pitching the Wildcats to a Maryland Class 1A championship. More important though, he was on the verge of becoming one of the first 10 players selected in baseball's 2004 amateur players draft, projected to go as high as the second overall pick.

But, unlike the batters who faced him, it was strike one, and Adenhart was out. After being touted as one of the most sought-after players in the country with a 90-95 mph fastball complemented by an 85 mph breaking pitch, he was just another player, bordering on damaged goods.

Instead of playing professional baseball, the 6-foot-3 right-hander looked like he was destined for surgery and a long road of rehabilitation at the University of North Carolina, where he signed a letter of intent to play baseball.

Or so it seemed.

"Even when this all happened, I thought the worst thing that would happen to me was I would end up at North Carolina, and that wasn't bad," Adenhart said. "When the draft came, I wasn't paying attention to it anymore. But then the Angels came with an offer."

On June 7, 2004, the Angels took a flier on Adenhart. They drafted him in the 14th round and approached the selection as if they were getting a second first-round selection. Los Angeles presented Adenhart with a well thought-out plan and a package, which included a signing bonus, which is reserved for top picks.

"I guess they were confident with the track record of the surgery and my character," Adenhart said. "I was surprised by a lot of the pre-draft talk, but they said what they had planned for me and put a serious offer out on the table.

"I was sitting around during the summer and wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I just wanted to go and have the surgery. But once they put the offer on the table "

It was an offer that kept Adenhart on the road to professional baseball, even though there was a huge detour ahead.

Long road to recovery

Ten days after being drafted, Adenhart was in Birmingham, Ala., for "Tommy John surgery," the revolutionary ligament replacement surgery perfected by Dr. James Andrews, who performed the procedure at the Alabama Sports Medicine Clinic.

The surgery, which basically uses a leg ligament to replace the one torn in the elbow, has salvaged the careers of many Major League pitchers. This time, it was being used in an attempt to start one.

"Dr. Andrews said the surgery went well," Adenhart said. "It was all clean. There weren't any bone spurs. A week after the surgery, Dr. Andrews said everything was good, and now I've been going to checkups with (Angels team doctor Dr. Lewis Yocum) and it's all good."

Adenhart was ready to travel the long road to recovery, but the scenery was much different.

The Angels wanted to monitor Adenhart's recovery. So, instead of going to North Carolina, Adenhart enrolled at Arizona State, where he began his college studies while rehabilitating in Tempe.

Slowly, Adenhart regained his arm strength, which helped ease any apprehension he might have had about pitching again.

"I've been on a throwing program for four or five months," he said. "The arm started building up with the soft tossing until I got ready. Once I got on the mound, I felt like I was ready. I thought about the injury when I had to throw the curve I got hurt on, but I got by."

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