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One year later, Adenhart's memory lives on

April 09, 2010|By BOB PARASILITI

It's the dream of little boys everywhere. It's the dream legends are made of.

Many little boys fantasize about becoming big baseball stars. They want to be so famous, they will be remembered by the number they wear.

Hank Aaron will always be No. 44. Willie Mays was 24. Cal Ripken wore a big 8 and Brooks Robinson donned a 5. The names and numbers are almost interchangeable.

Nick Adenhart had that dream. In one year, destiny made sure he will always be remembered as No. 34 - but for the most tragic of reasons.

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Fate and circumstances took away Adenhart's opportunity to build a long, memorable career. What could have been years of setting records and pitching to Major League hitters ended in a split second on April 9, 2009 when Adenhart and two friends died in an early morning car crash just hours after he threw six shutout innings in his season debut with the Los Angeles Angels.

It was only the fourth start of his career. It was his best. It was his last.

Gone was a young man from Williamsport with enormous talent who overcame odds and obstacles, insecurities and injuries, personal shortcomings and private battles to get his chance to live that dream.

"It was really tough when the offseason started," said John Hose, a close friend of Adenhart, who is helping to organize the Nick Adenhart 5K Run and Walk in his honor. "He would come home and that's when we got to see him more often. Now, all of a sudden, it's April 1 and the time is coming up."

What remains is No. 34, which became an inspiration for the hometown and team Adenhart played for during his short stay.

In Los Angeles, where dramatic stories and fantasy are the norm in Hollywood and Disneyland, Adenhart's death became the glue that kept the Angels and their fans together for the 2009 season. He was a major story for two weeks for the many news outlets. Williamsport and Washington County became a focal point to tell the story of the budding star who never realized his full potential.

Here in Washington County, Adenhart and his No. 34 have quietly become a way of life, remaining subtly in the background. Now, on the first anniversary of his death, Adenhart's memory is still in the fiber of the community because of a charitable foundation created in his name to help Little League baseball.

"I have been hearing how local Little Leagues are down to four teams," Hose said. "It wasn't like that when we played. I hope hearing (Adenhart's) story can spark some kids because this is where Nick played, worked hard and proved you can do it."

Angels fans built a makeshift shrine to Adenhart in front of Anaheim Stadium. They professed their love for a player they barely knew. The display was dismantled in the offseason, but the team pledged to remember Adenhart with a permanent display in Anaheim Stadium.

Adenhart's memory became the anchor for the Angels. His picture and number were central fixtures on the center field wall. His jersey hung in the dugout during games and his locker was preserved in a plastic case and taken on road trips.

In the fall, the Angels celebrated with Adenhart, throwing a celebration with his jersey and his center field likeness after winning the American League's West Division title and their ALDS series. The team voted a full share of its playoff pool to the Adenhart family.

Later, Adenhart remained in the nation's consciousness. His picture and a small story appears in the "Not to Be Forgotten" feature in the Dec. 26 issue of Sports Illustrated.

In Washington County, many still feel the sting of Adenhart's loss. Stories are still being told of a young man who was a good friend along with being a great athlete from Williamsport. They reminisce about how he was a ferocious competitor on the field while being shy and humble off of it.

"When it happened, some of his friends were upset because so many people were overwhelmed," Hose said. "They were saying that they didn't know him. But Nick knew people in so many different ways and maybe some of them didn't know him, but he had an impact on their life. He was part of Hagerstown. It was a celebration of how he lived his life. He had a way to make everyone feel special and welcomed."

Adenhart put Williamsport High School on the national map. Scouts from nearly every major league team came to town to see him pitch during his senior season because he was considered to be one of the best players available in the 2004 draft before an elbow injury and surgery erased him from the list. But he was so promising, the Angels still took a chance on Adenhart with a 14th-round pick even though he was out of commission for a year.

Many Angels caps and No. 34 jerseys with his name on the back are still being worn by his close friends. A black T-shirt was created with a picture of Adenhart's back with his name and number in full view and an "RIP" written above him. There are also a number of lapel pins and hat clasps with a white 34 with a halo around the top of the "4" on a black field in circulation.

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