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Shocked teammates grieve for Adenhart

Torii Hunter (left) and John Lackey hold Nick Adenhart's jersey during pregame ceremonies last night. Torii Hunter (left) and John Lackey hold Nick Adenhart's jersey during pregame ceremonies last night. (Chris Pizzello/Associated Press)
By Adam Kilgore
Globe Staff / April 11, 2009
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ANAHEIM, Calif. - Dustin Moseley sat up in bed Thursday morning, awakened by the buzzing of his cell phone. His younger brother had sent a text message. "Sorry to hear about Nick," it read.

His younger brother had met Nick Adenhart last year, when Moseley and Adenhart pitched together in Triple A. On Wednesday night, Adenhart started for the Los Angeles Angels. Afterward, Moseley patted him on the back and said, "Great job." Now he flipped on his television set. Adenhart had been killed in a car crash.

"It seemed like a dream to me," Moseley said. "It didn't seem real." Moseley's father died in 2004. This felt the same to him. Moseley cried the rest of the morning. He drove to Angel Stadium, walked down the tunnel to the clubhouse, and saw Adenhart's locker. Moseley cried all over again. His eyes were raw and red yesterday.

The Angels returned to baseball last night against the Red Sox after a patchwork of gray clouds yielded to sunlight and blue sky. They postponed their game Thursday against the Oakland A's and instead met as a team in the empty ballpark. For the first time together, and with Adenhart's parents, they grieved the loss of Adenhart. He was 22.

The Angels observed a moment of silence at Angel Stadium and presented a video tribute to Adenhart and Henry Pearson, 25, and Courtney Stewart, 20, the passengers killed with Adenhart. Earlier in the afternoon, the district attorney charged Andrew Thomas Gallo, who is alleged to have run a red light and crashed his van into Adenhart's car while intoxicated, with three counts of murder.

Owner Arte Moreno strolled behind the pregame batting cage, shaking hands and hugging players. "I don't know if we can ever turn the page," he said. "But tonight we're playing baseball."

"Every player in that room is overcome with emotion," manager Mike Scioscia said. "This game of baseball, it has a way of focusing you. It's going to be a process. This is not like a tough loss of a game. This is a tough loss of a magnitude that we hope to never experience or see again."

Adenhart made his fourth major league start Wednesday night. His father had flown from Maryland to sit in the stands because Adenhart had told him "something special is going to happen." Adenhart threw six scoreless innings, the best performance of his burgeoning career. He sat at his locker afterward, and pitching coach Mike Butcher approached him.

"How'd it feel?" Butcher asked him. "Are you feeling the ball coming off your fingertips like it's supposed to?"

"Butch," Adenhart said, "I got it."

Little more than two hours later, Butcher received a call. The ID on his cell phone said it was Nick Adenhart. Butcher figured Adenhart had celebrated too hard, and he would have to retrieve him somewhere. "In a good way," Butcher said.

Butcher answered his phone and heard the voice of Adenhart's father. Jim Adenhart told Butcher that Nick had been in a car accident and was in critical condition.

Butcher drove to meet Jim Adenhart at the hospital. They sat in a waiting room, and they didn't acknowledge what they knew the lack of updates from the operating room portended.

They talked. Butcher learned about the time Adenhart threw a no-hitter and lost, then threw a perfect game against the same team a week later. Jim Adenhart learned about his son's spring training practice habits and how Butcher wanted him to show more emotion. Three hours after Butcher arrived, Adenhart was pronounced dead.

Joe Saunders had the locker next to Adenhart. Saunders's mother and Adenhart both grew up in Silver Spring, Md. Saunders and Adenhart wore Washington Redskins T-shirts. Adenhart's bouncing between the minors and majors reminded Saunders of his own career. Saunders cried Thursday for the first time since he was 11. He drove home, called his father, and hugged his daughter and his wife.

"Our next start, our ninth start, our 19th start, this whole year, our whole career is going to be attributed to Nick," Saunders said. "We're always going to remember him."

Outside the stadium, more than four hours before the game, fans gathered around a makeshift memorial. They stared at a swath of bouquets, Teddy bears, Angels caps, candles, pictures, jerseys, a bag of sunflower seeds, wreaths, drawings, letters, and balloons. People scrawled messages on most of the items. A note scribbled on one cap read, "Have fun playing catch with our dad."

Fathers held their children, people snapped pictures, and one woman circled the memorial and blew a kiss. No one spoke. There was a crude drawing in black marker of a pitcher wearing No. 34. Children's handwriting above the picture read, "You are the best pitcher 1986-2009."

Jim and Jill Adenhart picked through their son's locker Thursday afternoon. Jill took the cap he wore during his start. The Angels left Adenhart's locker intact otherwise - his glove, his cleats, his iPod. One locker in their clubhouse for each road game will remain empty under a nameplate that says "Adenhart 34."

Most of his teammates were just getting to know Nick Adenhart. The guys he played with in Salt Lake knew he could mimic the voices and mannerisms of all his teammates, that he had his own style, that he had overcome elbow surgery at age 17, that he and Moseley told each other a joke every day.

"Last year, we struggled together," Moseley said. "We both had our ups and downs in Triple A. The way he would come out of starts on and off the field, and just keep that same demeanor, and keep that same positive attitude and confidence that he had - such a quiet confidence - I admired that. And I'm five years older than he was.

"And I'm looking at him going, 'Wow. This is impressive. This guy is going to do things for a long time at the big league level.' "

Adam Kilgore can be reached at akilgore@globe.com

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