I figure that Nick’s birthday would be a good day to post the first of a two-part Fan Post about my cross-country move from DC back to California in November of 2011. Part Two will be about my stop to watch Mike Trout play in the Arizona Fall League with Bryce Harper.
On the morning Nick Adenhart was killed, I was representing the Marine Corps at a conference hosted by the CIA in rural Virginia. I was supposed to have a small speaking role later in the afternoon in one of the breakout sessions. We were on a break from the mid-morning main conference speakers and I was in the small cafeteria about to finish my third cup of coffee when I looked up at CNN on one of the TV screens. When I saw the headline, "Angels Pitcher Killed in Early Morning Accident," my body tightened up. My head couldn’t put things together for a moment. I saw the aerial footage of a twisted and mangled vehicle on the screen, and for a moment I was thinking, "Who… which pitcher?" And then I saw Nick’s picture on the lower part of the screen. I suddenly felt sick. I immediately threw my coffee away and left the building and the conference. I didn’t tell anyone where I was going. I just got in my car and drove home.
Prior to Nick’s death, I had not known much about him other than that he was our top pitching prospect. Like many of us, I had followed his stats and progress through the minors, and was really looking forward to his debut. On a cold April night in Arlington, Virginia, my girlfriend and I watched him pitch his sensational final game against Oakland. We were very excited about him becoming a part of the rotation, but didn't know too much else about him. Of course, as the months went by after he was taken, we all learned a lot about who he was. He had become finite. News and facts about his short life increased in value the way an artist’s paintings do after the artist’s hands shrivel into bones. And so I learned that Nick had grown up in Hagerstown, MD—just an hour or so from where I lived in Virginia. I heard there was going to be a vigil for Nick in Hagerstown, but my work schedule at the Pentagon prevented me from going. Later on I heard they named his little league field in honor of him, but I was always too busy to go see it. And then late last year, as I finished up my tour of duty and began planning my route home to California, I saw Hagerstown on the map. And I resolved to make a stop.
From what I could tell on Google Maps, Halfway Little League was just off Rte. 70, maybe a one-mile total detour off my route west. It looked like it was right inside Halfway County Park. So as we drove cross country, my (then fiancé) and I took the appropriate exit and pulled into the park. We immediately saw a couple of little league fields, and I thought, "Wow, that was easy." But there was no "Nick Adenhart Field" to be found. I thought, So what, they didn’t even put a sign up? What kind of memorial is that? Maybe I was in the wrong place? I didn’t see a Halfway Little League sign anywhere. So I plugged it into my GPS, which said I was about two miles away from "Halfway Little League." Confusing. So I followed the GPS route… all the way to some sort of correctional facility. By this time, I had wasted a half hour, our two labs were whining in the back of the truck, and I my fiancé was about to suggest we just forget it and get back on the road. But I wanted to give the original park we drove into just one more chance. We pulled into the park again, and took the main road all the way to the back, into a place called Marty Snook Park. Off to my right, I could make out two or three more small baseball fields, and I drove over to them and parked. I let the crazy dogs out of the truck to run, and my fiancé and I walked through the deserted parking lot and up to a field and I saw the sign—Nicholas James Adenhart Memorial Field.
It was a cold Saturday afternoon in early November, 2011. It was quiet. Just me, the lady, the dogs, and the ball fields. There were no kids practicing ball—this wasn’t SoCal. The bad weather would be coming soon. The grass was still green but was just a few weeks away from the mid-Atlantic freeze. The diamonds were well manicured with high-quality red clay, and neatly painted sponsors’ signs hung beneath the plastic yellow protective strip that ran along the top of the short outfield fence. I don’t know if this was all the result of donation money, but it was a nice field—(much better my Del Rosa Little League in San Bernardino, where the "8," "6," and "3" on the scoreboard all looked like the same number). We spent maybe 20 minutes walking around the area and letting the dogs get tired. As we got ready to leave, I went over behind the backstop to take a few pictures.
When we are younger and someone we know is killed, it is a sad affair—especially if they are young. But we don’t really understand what it means. With the passage of time, their death takes on new meaning. We begin to realize that dying young really means missing out on life—the births of your children, camping trips,… and baseball games. As we grow older, we understand that our young friends that left this world early never got to see all this. If we stop now and then to ponder this fact, it should renew the attention we give to our own lives and loved ones.
I’ve been a baseball player and Angels fan nearly my entire 37 years on this earth. And when the Halos won the World Series in 2002, I considered myself just about complete as a fan. But the visit to Hagerstown reminded me that I am not even close to complete. This thing is a cycle. My two boys are just entering little league, and baseball is about to take on a whole different and deeper meaning to me. I can’t really put it any better than Nick’s parents did in the inscription dedicating his field: " ‘We hope all of the parents understand what a special place Halfway Little League is and how fast it goes by… treasure every minute.’ Thanks for the memories, Nick’s Family."
And so I will be taking their advice.
I’m glad I made it to Nicholas James Adenhart Memorial Field. If you’re ever out there, it’s worth the trip.