Just 48 hours earlier, Angels players had watched rookie Nick Adenhart pitch six scoreless innings against the Oakland A's in his coming out party as a major league starting pitcher. Now they were looking at his black and white image on the center-field wall beside his name and No. 34, a memorial to the 22-year-old pitcher after he and two friends were killed in a hit-and-run accident early Thursday morning.
"To see someone lose their life at such an early age, it takes you out of that bubble as a baseball player and a person," said Angels pitcher Dustin Moseley, who was a teammate of Adenhart's at Triple-A Salt Lake last year. "You think, 'Wow, could tomorrow be my last day on this earth?' And what kind of impact am I having?"
Adenhart's locker remained intact before the game as his father, Jim, and mother, Janet, took some of his jerseys and hats as keepsakes. Just one day earlier, after watching his son pitch the game of his life and later being informed of his passing, Jim sat quietly in front of his son's locker before walking out onto the mound at Angel Stadium, crying as he looked up at the heavens above for some solace. He would later be joined in the clubhouse by the rest of the Angels players and coaches for a team meeting manager Mike Scioscia called after Thursday night's game against the A's was postponed.
"I think the things we were able to tell Mr. Adenhart and to give him a hug, I think for a second it brought Nick back for him," said Moseley. "We're big boys and we're giving him a hug and I'm sure it felt like he was giving Nick a hug."
A couple days before the game, Nick had called his dad in Maryland and told him, "You better come here because something special is going to happen."
"I think sometimes as people, we say things and we don't even know why we say them, but sometimes I think God speaks to us," said Moseley. "For him to say that to his father and for his father to get here to see him, I know that his father is so glad that he got to see [him play]."
Adenhart's parents met with pitcher John Lackey and center fielder Torii Hunter in the clubhouse before the game and both Lackey and Hunter held Adenhart's jersey on the mound prior to the first pitch. As the Angels lined the first-base line and the Red Sox lined the third-base line in front of their respective dugouts, there was a moment of silence for Adenhart and his two friends killed in the accident. Afterwards, Hunter ran to Adenhart's picture in center field and touched it before the game began.
"Everyone has a heavy heart, there are a lot of guys in that clubhouse who were very close to Nick, and it's going to take some time," said Scioscia. "He's going to be with us. That's something the guys felt very strongly about."
Outside of the stadium, the small vigil that had started on the concrete pitcher's mound in front of main entrance Thursday morning had ballooned into a hill of flowers, balloons and posters with personal notes to the pitcher. While fans paid tribute to the pitcher in their own way, Angels players each wore a black circular patch with Adenhart's name and No. 34 above their hearts. A red No. 34 was also painted behind the pitcher's mound and a video montage of Adenhart played before the game to Train's "Calling All Angels."
The Angels also announced that Adenhart's locker will remain untouched at the stadium for the rest of the season and he will have a locker on the road as well.
While each member of the Angels organization was coping with the sudden loss of Adenhart, few had it as rough as Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher, who was the first member of the team to be contacted by Jim Adenhart, who called Butcher from Nick's cell phone. After the game Adenhart had pitched, Butcher figured he was getting a call from his young player who might have been celebrating a bit too hard.
"It was 2 a.m. and my caller ID said 'Nick Adenhart' because I have him programmed into my phone," said Butcher. "I'm thinking, 'OK, I'm going to have to go get Nick somewhere, but in a good way.' Then I heard his father, who said Nick had been in an accident and was at UCI Medical Center in critical condition."
After Butcher arrived at the hospital, he knew something was wrong when they weren't given any updates three hours later. He tried passing the time by talking to Jim about Nick and telling him what he had told him during the game a few hours earlier.
"After I took Nick out of the game Wednesday night I asked him, 'Is the ball coming out of your hand like it's supposed to?'" Butcher said. "He said, 'Butch, I got it.' To see a kid figure it out that early, to understand it and own it, and a few hours later he loses his life."
The reality of it all still hadn't sunk into pitcher Joe Saunders as he arrived at the clubhouse Friday and looked at Adenhart's locker, which sits next to his. They had talked about their mutual love of the Washington Redskins, how his mom was from Adenhart's hometown of Silver Springs, Maryland, and how they were going to make some noise this season. Now his friend and teammate was gone forever.
"I think regardless of my next start, ninth start, 19th start, this whole year and our whole careers are going to be attributed to Nick," said Saunders. "We're always going to remember him and I'm always going to remember having him next to my locker. I'll always remember that and I'll never forget him."