Jon Heyman
Friday April 10th, 2009

The thing everyone keeps saying about Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart was how far he had come, and how fast.

Nobody grew as quick as Nick, people close to him said. Nobody matured like Nick.

At 22, he was growing so fast. And now he is gone in an instant -- the victim of some idiot on a Southern California street.

The alleged perpetrator of the hit-and-run drunken-driving crime that killed Nick coincidentally was 22, too. But that is a young fellow going nowhere. The opposite of Nick, a perfect name for the kid who beat time.

A 14th-round draft choice, Nick came along so fast he was starting the third game of the season for the Angels, heavy favorites in the American League West. Nick was one of the youngest pitchers in the major leagues. At 22 and a rookie, he threw six shutout innings Thursday night, only hours before he was killed on the road in nearby Fullerton, Calif., the victim of a senseless crime. (A senseless crime that led to the arrest of that 22-year-old from Riverside, Calif., who plowed into Nick's car, killing three innocent victims, critically injuring a fourth and bringing untold heartache to all those who knew and loved the victims.)

Nick's sudden death brought tough old men to their knees in a very public way. His agent, Scott Boras, is known as one of the toughest men in baseball, yet he was a wreck Thursday at the press conference. Boras has three kids, and he could barely keep it together. His words regarding the sad, senseless loss were eloquent, what he could say between the tears, anyway.

"Great kid," Boras said between the tears.

All the folks who knew Nick saw a star in him. They saw the progress, and they saw how great he might become.

"He grew tremendously, both on and off the field," said Mike Fiore, one of his agents. "He was a great person."

"He grew as much as anyone I've been around in the last four years," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said at the saddest press conference in a long, long time.

All the folks who knew Nick can't get over what happened, and won't get over it. It's not just that he was a talented kid who did everything he could to conjure that ability. It's what a nice man he was, it's how young he was and what a senseless, crazy waste this is.

All the folks who knew him were touched by him. All of them were excited about how far he had come and about where he was going.

The folks who accompanied Nick on a trip to Havana three years ago as part of the United States Olympic qualifying team couldn't get over how much progress Nick had made. And how quickly he was gone.

They loved the kid.

They recalled him as the youngest of the young. Adenhart was by far the youngest player on that Olympic qualifying team of promising youngsters such as Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Mark Reynolds, Michael Bourn, Billy Butler, Skip Schumaker and Kevin Slowey. He was 19 when they all left for Havana, and Roly de Armas, the bullpen coach of that team, recalled that the team celebrated Nick's 20th birthday in the lobby of the hotel in Havana.

Over the phone, de Armas said he was stunned and probably in shock, but he was also fighting emotion. He recalled Nick as "our puppy." De Armas remembered Nick as the kind of kid you'd want for your own, a beautiful kid, not yet old enough to drink but still old enough to enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime excursion.

"He was real nice kid, a real class kid. He was a very pleasant kid," de Armas said. "He was a real quiet kid, and a real good worker. It's like losing a family member. The whole team became a family, and he was one of the young puppies."

MLB executive John Blundell, who traveled with the U.S. qualifying team, could not stop talking about how excited he was that Nick was starting Game 3 as a rookie, according to all the folks at the MLB office. Thursday, after Nick's senseless death, Blundell was talking about how he had eagerly anticipated the prospect of Nick coming to New York with his Angels as a 22-year-old rookie, and how he had been looking forward to seeing him for the first time since the qualifying games in Havana.

"He was a sweet kid, a good kid," Blundell said. "He wasn't a troublemaker. He was a down-to-Earth guy."

They all recalled him as a fun kid who worked hard and enjoyed life, as the type of kid who would play chess with the locals to pass the time while waiting for the team bus.

"He had a smile on his face, but he wasn't flamboyant by any stretch," said Kirk Champion, the pitching coach of that U.S. qualifying team who's with the White Sox organization. "I saw where Torii Hunter said he was a fun guy in the clubhouse, and I'm not surprised at all."

They knew him as a bright young kid ready to shine. After his six scoreless innings against the A's Wednesday night, Scioscia told him he was a man now. Nick appeared on the precipice of stardom.

"I was watching last night, and you could see what a great future this kid was going to have," Champion said. "To see him last night and the strides he made ... he really looked like a young up-and-coming guy. It says a lot for the Angels' development guys. He was an exciting kid. He had all the equipment.

"It's a really, really sad story."

Thanks to some drunken idiot out in California, it's a short story. But it's a story no one who met the kid will ever forget.

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