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Adenhart bucking professional baseball odds

January 28, 2007|by BOB PARASILITI

If tight spots bothered Nick Adenhart, he would have to start worrying now.

The pressure was on from the start.

"In high school, I was voted most likely to succeed," he said. "I went and had the picture taken for the yearbook and didn't think much of it. But in my field, I had the slimmest odds to succeed."

Then it hit Adenhart. Sure, he was one of the best high school pitchers in the nation as a senior at Williamsport in 2004, but that didn't give him a free pass to the stardom and riches that are associated with being a professional baseball player.

First off, only about three percent of aspiring players make it out of the minor leagues and into a major league uniform. There are only 750 roster spots in the majors and they open up in trickles instead of waves.

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Other factors weigh in as Adenhart continues his climb through the Los Angeles Angels system in quest of one of those elusive jobs. Health and knowledge also make or break players.

An injury got to Adenhart early. He ripped an elbow ligament and underwent the famed Tommy John surgery to repair it. After a year of rehabilitation and another six months of preparation, the taller, stronger Adenhart is pitching again and doing it well.

"It's been a long way back ... about 1 1/2 years to get back," Adenhart said recently at a meeting of Ravens Nest No. 12. "I didn't get nervous or shook up.

"Before you get hurt, you think about what it would be like if you do. Now I think about it, but you can't think about it. It's a preparation thing. You have to concentrate and now I have my first season under my belt. The thing about it is as a pitcher, you have the biggest workload on the team. You go to the trainer to get the things that bother you taken care of and you take care of your body."

And knowledge is coming from opportunity. Adenhart is rated as one of the Angels' top prospects, despite falling to the 14th round because of his elbow injury. For the second straight season, Adenhart has been invited to work out in the major league spring camp to give everyone a look at how far he's come and how far he needs to go.

"I got the same invitation last year," Adenhart said. "I'll go up there and work with them for a couple of weeks and then get sent back to reality.

"They told me that I wasn't going to make the club. They just wanted me there to learn. Now they probably want to see if I'm making the step in the right direction. They might be seeing if I could become a leader. It's part of finding where my niche is. Spring was a chance to watch the big leaguers up close and see how they go about their business and see how they do what's best for the team."

Adenhart has been getting a quick education.

After using his rehabilitation year to acclimate to living away from home, it has been much easier to get down to business.

"My first year was neat. It was like redshirting," Adenhart said. "I didn't have to worry about stats. I was just worried about taking care of myself. I was 17 and figuring out how to live on my own. Then when I started throwing again, I had a lot of things figured out. I know all the mechanics of the clubhouse."

The first lesson was pitching after the injury. Experiencing some failure early was an education in itself.

"When I first started pitching again, I had 15 walks in 12 innings," Adenhart said. "No one was watching me pitch. After a while, it all straightened out.

Now, everyone seems to be watching Adenhart.

His fastball is up to 97 mph and he seemingly breezed through Class A competition at Cedar Rapids in the Midwest League and Rancho Cucamonga in the California League for a combined 15-4 record with 150 strikeouts in 158 innings.

It was rather scary.

"It all happened so fast. It was all coming so easy. I had to slow myself down," Adenhart said. "I led the Midwest League in innings pitched the first half of the year. I was pumped, but I didn't want to fade at the end and not play. They were able to cut my season short. I missed the last two weeks and went to Cuba."

The next step is pending. Adenhart is projected to start the 2007 season in Double A with the Arkansas Travelers of the Texas League. Reaching that level is considered the crossroads for a minor leaguer because each team has only one Double A team as compared to three to five teams on the Single A level.

Adenhart is on track to fulfill the senior class vote of success. And any pressure that goes with the "Most Likely To" title was missing from the very start.

"I'm a fan first. I love the game," Adenhart said. "I love playing it. I love watching it. I love watching my brother play. That makes it easy to be part of it. I feel like twice the pitcher I was in high school. I have more command and knowledge. I've learned so much, but I'm still a long way away."

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