Thursday April 9th, 2009

What might have been one of the most promising nights in the young life of Nick Adenhart -- having just pitched six shutout innings, his big-league dreams forming into something very real -- turned out to be his last. What might have been. The sadness of those words today are as profound as any family can know, especially when the gift of life is taken away so soon and so senselessly.

Adenhart, killed at age 22 by a hit-and-run driver while riding in a car after leaving Angel Stadium following his finest big-league game, was a thoughtful, dedicated young man with a full life and brilliant career ahead of him. His was the 64th death of an active major league player, all them tragic in 64 unique ways. His potential and his youthfulness make this death forever impactful upon the family of baseball.

At 22 Adenhart is among the youngest active big leaguers to die. Ken Hubbs, a second baseman for the Cubs, was also 22 when he died in a plane crash in 1964. Hubbs already was a standout player, having won the 1962 Rookie of the Year Award and a Gold Glove.

Adenhart was only just being formed as a big league star. He seemed born to the pitching mound as a teenager, when scouts flocked to see the kid from Maryland. He was going to be first-round pick -- until he underwent Tommy John surgery a month before the draft. The Angels, though, liked him so much that they took him in the 14th round, gave him second-round bonus money ($710,000) and were happy to wait for him to heal, knowing he was the kind of kid who would put in all the hard work to make it back as good as new.

Adenhart did not disappoint. He was in the big leagues last year at age 21. He was the Angels' best starting pitcher in spring training this year. He threw ground balls and showed command of a big curveball beyond his years. He had that polish that most 22-year-old pitchers are years from acquiring. His moment was now.

And now all of what Nick Adenhart was about to offer -- living his big-league dream, the success in his chosen craft, the pride from his family, from his home state of Maryland and his Angels baseball family -- is all gone in one horrifying moment.

Too many players have left us too soon. Just since 2002, we've lost Mike Darr, Darryl Kile, Cory Lidle, Josh Hancock and Joe Kennedy. The news of their passing always tears away at us, especially because their youthfulness and athleticism are qualities we choose not to associate with mortality. But Nick Adenhart was only 22, young even by the standards of a profession that roots out its elders in their mid-30s, and he was on the cusp of being a star. It was the very worst news imaginable.

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