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'The world was about to see him'

Adenhart's former coaches, teammates remember him after tragic death

Adenhart's former coaches, teammates remember him after tragic death

April 09, 2009|By BOB PARASILITI

Dave Warrenfeltz sat in front of his television on Wednesday night thinking what probably most Washington County baseball fans had running through their minds.

There Warrenfeltz was, like many others, watching Williamsport's Nick Adenhart pitch for the Los Angeles Angels in the first game of his return to the Major Leagues.

"I said to myself that this was something that I was going to be doing for the next 15 years," he said. "Then, a couple hours later, I got the call."

"The call" came early Thursday morning. It was an Adenhart family member telling the Warrenfeltz family -- who were friends and neighbors -- that Adenhart was in surgery after being involved in a three-car traffic accident in Fullerton, Calif., after the game.

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"Then came the worse call," Warrenfeltz said.

Adenhart had been pronounced dead. With his death came the realization and horror of how all of his hard work and dreams were ended just after he entered the doorway of the professional career that he had honed himself for the last 14 years of his life.

It shocked many of Adenhart's former coaches, teammates and fellow competitors deeply after they all heard that the closest thing they knew to a rising star had fallen.

"I thought about the kid in Adenhart and how he had such a young life in front of him with an arm," said Clear Spring baseball coach Mark Shives. "The world was about to see him. He was going to end up being an eventual No. 1 arm in a legitimate pro organization."

The world will never know what it missed.

"He gave hope to a lot of kids in Washington County," said Smithsburg baseball coach Trey Cobb, whose brother Trevor was Adenhart's teammate when he played at St. Maria Goretti. "He was their role model. He was a positive influence and a kid that was ready to make it big."

Adenhart's dream was built on being a coach's dream. He was that once-in-a-lifetime player who was blessed with enormous talent and figured out his destiny early in life. He was all about becoming a Major League Baseball player.

"I remember how prepared he was before every season," said Rod Steiner, who was Adenhart's coach at Williamsport and watched him develop through Washington County's Little League system. "He knew his possibilities and his potential."

Adenhart didn't burst on the scene. Instead, he slowly rose to local prominence over the course of his youth career and continued rising after he graduated from high school. Even though his high school pitching career was cut short by an elbow injury that needed major surgery, the Angels still decided to draft Adenhart in the 14th round and signed him with a bonus more fitting of a higher draft pick.

"I think it was a natural thing for him," said Fred Kreiger, director of the Diamonds in the Rough baseball camp and former Boonsboro coach. "You either have it or you don't. He had a presence about him. An air of confidence. It was a 'You aren't going to beat me' attitude."

Adenhart found that attitude again when he made the Angels' starting rotation for this season following a sharp spring training. He had been promoted for three starts in 2008, but struggled and was sent back to Triple-A, where his struggles continued.

On Wednesday, Adenhart found himself in multiple jams, but was in command enough to pitch out of each of them during six shutout innings before leaving the game with a 3-0 lead over the Oakland Athletics. Los Angeles couldn't hold the lead and lost 6-4.

"I was proud of him (Wednesday)," Steiner said. "When he was here, we worked on his character. If the umpire made a bad call, I didn't want him to show the ump up or yell at him. He had a routine where he got the ball back and went to work on the mound to get past the frustration.

"(On Wednesday), I saw a mature young man. Some calls went against him and he didn't let them bother him. I wanted him to realize in the end, everyone is judged by their character."

Adenhart's competitiveness and drive were as evident as his fastball from early on. Coaches noticed his talents right from the start.

"The first time I saw him play when he was 8, I thought he was a 12-year-old," said Warrenfeltz, who coached Adenhart while his son, David, became his catcher for most of his youth and prep career. "He was so mature beyond his years. He studied the game and love to talk about it. He didn't just play."

To most, Adenhart was a baseball player. But for many coaches, players and members of the Williamsport community, he had so much more to offer.

A fierce competitor on the field, Adenhart was a shy, unassuming sort away from it. It was a side of him that endeared him to his friends.

"Off the field, he was hilarious, but when you got him between the lines he turned it on," said Smithsburg assistant baseball coach Drew Crawford, who played with Adenhart on Hagerstown's PONY All-Star team that went to the 2000 World Series. "I remember during the World Series I told him, 'You have got a shot at the Majors. You are special,' and he would just chuckle."

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