2009 Angels: Class in the Face of Tragedy

Amidst the fiftieth anniversary celebration going on with the Angels, the franchise is revisiting many memories, most of which are distant, alive in our memories for the first time in years, clear again after almost completely forgotten. And since the 49th of those first fifty teams is so recent in retrospect, what they accomplished sits in the record books, but what they established as a legacy of class in the face of adversity set the benchmark for this franchise and perhaps for all of professional sports.

The team lost Nick Adenhart in an unspeakable tragedy. But there were games to be played. And so they did. They honored his memory in a manner that evolved over time, never exploiting it, never merchandising it, never using it as an excuse for failure or a crutch for avoiding what needed to be done.

They took a day off. They had a pregame ceremony. They had a moment of silence. They put Nick's number over their hearts. They beat the Red Sox. That Sunday the benches cleared... but they kept their cool. You see, class is not about avoiding your emotions. It is about feeling what is there without letting passion control you. In the depths of their agony, they could have rolled over. When Dustin Moseley and Darrin Oliver were their fourth and fifth starters, they could have played for 2010. But they showed up every day and they played.

A fan left a flower on the patio in front of the stadium, a simulated brick baseball field commemorating charitable donors and opening day starters. This is where it goes beyond a team of well-paid athletes compartmentalizing the outside world in order to excel at their craft. This is where an organization steps up and alters the way it conducts itself form the humanity at its core. If the core was rotten, that flower out in front of the stadium would have been whisked into the trash. But it was followed by a hat, a baloon, a vase of flowers, a note, a baseball car, a picture.

The organization began managing the spontaneous public altar outside the stadium. They added a clip of Nick to the opening jumbotron montage. A tribute in Centerfield showed that the billboards cluttering the stadium could serve a higher purpose. They were in first place with a patch on their hearts. When they clinched the division, the team celebrated out there and doused Nick's jersey as they would every teammate.

When Joe Saunders was traded to the Diamondbacks during the 2010 season, he took jersey number 34. It all came back. When Reggie Willits was rehabbing at Single-A San Bernadino this April, he wore jersey number 34. It all came back. It means nothing to anyone watching from the stands who didn't go through it and nothing can compare to being a teammate over having been in the stands or watching at home...

But it means everything, that jersey number out there somewhere, once in a while, because I did watch the postgame interview with Nick on the night of April 8 and two hours later he was gone and you can rage and shriek and wallow and curse the fates but if there are games to be played and a job to be done you can draw on the inspiration of the 2009 Angels and never forget as you go out and get the job done, no matter who you are in the organization. No matter who you are, where you work or what you do. And showing us all how to be better people by leading with your example day in and day out can only be called one thing. Classy.

P.S. And they voted Nick a full share of the playoff purse.

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