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Coping after Adenhart's death is painful side of Real Sports

October 26, 2009|By BOB PARASILITI

The definition is simple.

The act is probably one of the most difficult things to accomplish.

To cope. It is "to struggle or deal, especially on fairly even terms or with some degree of success."

Now, nearly six months after his tragic death, Nick Adenhart's family, friends and Los Angeles Angels teammates continue to struggle, deal and look for that degree of success. The look from all sides proves that life without Adenhart is a painful work in progress.

It becomes oh-so-evident how the most important people in his life are struggling to cope with his absence in the 13-minute feature on Adenhart's death, which airs Tuesday at 10 p.m. on HBO's "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel." The segment -- titled "In Our Hearts," reported by correspondent Mary Carillo -- traces the events leading up to the Williamsport graduate's untimely death and the emotional impact it has left on his parents, Jim Adenhart and Janet Gigeous, the Angels and Jon Wilhite, the only one of four people in the car in which Nick was traveling to survive the April 9 accident.

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By now, most people in this area know the story. Adenhart had just finished pitching his season debut against the Oakland Athletics in his return to the major leagues. This time, he enjoyed huge success and showed a maturity far beyond his years and experience. He captured the imagination of many, including the vast majority of his local fans and friends who watched from nearly 3,000 miles away.

Many of them still relive those events and their memories of Adenhart daily.

Jim Adenhart was at the game and recounts the emotional highs of the experience. He tells of how Nick was "15 feet tall" and "larger than life" and how it was one of the best days of his life.

Then Jim follows by conveying the unfathomable lows that came just hours later after the accident -- the shock, the loneliness and the despair which forced him to say goodbye to his son. Jim went and stood on the Anaheim Stadium mound and "looked up in the sky and said 'I love you.'"

The Angels also struggled to make sense of the situation and were admittedly in a fog while trying to come to grips with Nick's death.

Without knowing it, the team adopted a quote about death to carry on.

"He who has gone, so we but cherish his memory, abides with us, more potent, nay, more present than the living man." -- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The franchise mourned Nick's death while using his loss as an inspiration to compete. Images of Nick have dotted the Angels' landscape for the entire season. It started with the always visible No. 34 on the front of their uniforms and the picture of Nick pitching on Anaheim Stadium's fence in center field. It is carried through by keeping Nick's locker intact, displaying his jersey in the dugout and the shrine created by fans in front of the stadium.

The Angels bottled the emotions and turned them into a trip to the American League Championship Series.

Angels outfielder Torii Hunter speaks of how Nick's will to win was evident early and is one of the many memories that stick with the team through "rituals of inspiration." The Angels remain genuine in their thoughts of and affection for Nick, including his memory in every celebration of accomplishment along the way.

"It took us a while, but we finally figured it out," Hunter says.

Still, all the glamour and acts only partially fill the hole for Jim and Janet, who are still trying to come to grips with the loss.

For Jim, regular trips to Nicholas James Adenhart Field at Halfway Little League are used as his therapy. It is his chance to grieve, remember and speak to his son.

"God assures us that his angels are always nearby, ready to help. This is what matters." -- Timothy Jones, Celebration of Angels

Still, coping is the hardest thing to do.

Bob Parasiliti is a sportswriter for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7358 or at bobp@herald-mail.com

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