IT’S ONLY A GAME
I didn’t know Nick Adenhart. In truth, I hardly ever heard the name, other than that he was the next stud pitcher to come out of the Angels’ farm system. Having lived in Orange County, California for fifteen years, that kind of news sort of rolled off my back. It always seemed as if there was a stud pitcher in the Angels’ farm system. Just another reason to worry about the Angels in the playoffs again. Or just another prospect who doesn’t live up to the hype. Either way, he was not important enough to break into my mainstream of thought every day. There are just too many things going on around me to make a rookie pitcher for a team I do not particularly care for important. Maybe I should pay more attention in the future.
I’ve been to the many incarnations of the “Big A” hundreds of times. For many years, I could walk up to the ticket window the night of a game against anyone…including the Yankees…and get a great seat on the first base line. For many years, the stands were empty. There were not a lot of Angels fans rooting a mediocre team on. And in the early nineties, the Yankees had not yet achieved rock star status, so the traveling Yankees road trip did not bring the crowds to Anaheim that it does now. Back then, there were two almost good teams playing each other without the hype that a post season rivalry and a few World Series Championships can bring. It was a much simpler way to enjoy baseball. I miss that. I miss a lot of what the game was in years gone by.
I remember hearing the crack of the bat instead of the blast of the PA system. I remember hearing Red Sox shortstop Rickie Guitierrez whistle so loudly from his position for the entire inning, it felt as if he was sitting right next to me. I remember being able to hear the players joke with each other. Egg each other on. You know. The banter you might remember from your youth. The players, the field, the lights, the smell of the hot dogs, the taste of warm beer and stale peanuts, all of it, made this game something special. Over the years, however, I have come to believe that the things that made baseball such a wonderful thing have changed, or completely faded away. I have developed a level of disdain for the game that I never thought possible. The fans are different. The players are different. The media, the teams and the overall feel of the game has changed so much for m that I sometimes found myself asking if I could continue to be a fan of this game I love so much, but seems to have left old guys like me behind. I find myself thinking that after all these years, baseball is what it is. It’s just a game.
At least that’s what I thought until I heard the news. This young man from Maryland lost his life, along with his girlfriend and another young man. We all know the story. He pitched a gem for his team in his season debut. He battled injury, surgery and the struggles young men often battle to make it to the Major Leagues. The accolades and heart-felt tributes for this young man are pouring in by the second, and paint a picture of a ball player who exudes the very spirit that I thought was lost in today’s game. A tough kid. A good kid. A kid who dedicated his short life to achieving his life’s goal. And when he felt he got there, he asked his father to come to his debut because, as he said, something special was going to happen. It did. Something very special happened on the field. He reached his dream with his father looking on. What would any young man give to have that chance? That special moment in time that defines a lifetime.
I am shocked by the news, as we all are. I can feel the anguish of the Angel fans because on August 2, 1979, I lost my hero in baseball. Our Captain was taken away from us suddenly, senselessly, without warning. Anyone who was alive to see that knows how it felt. We were inconsolable. We were lost. We thought we would never recover. But we did. Because we had to. But even in that recovery, I still find myself shedding a tear on August 2 every year. The memory of Thurman Munson will never escape me.
On this saddest of days as the Major League Baseball family says goodbye to one of its rising stars, I am reminded again of the loss of Thurman Munson, and my thoughts go out to the Angels organization, its fans, Nick’s friends and of course, his family. There are no words to describe the loss. Just as we couldn’t when Thurman died. But there is some solace I can take from this tragic event. The outpouring of grief from the fans, the organization and even Scott Boras puts the importance of this game squarely in perspective. And in a very strange way, I am fortified by this. I once again can say that this game is something special. It has the ability to give the fans incredible joy, and the support the fans need when the most horrible of tragedies occur. We find strength in the game. We find strength in each other. Friends and foe alike. We all come together when we all need it most.
Nick, we hardly got to know you, but we say thanks for sharing the small part of your life you had to give. Thanks for reminding us that baseball is something special. Thanks for reminding me that it really isn’t just a game.