'When You Get a Good Kid . . . It's Sad'
An Injury to Pitching Elbow Leaves Future of a Top Prep Prospect on Hold
By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 29, 2004; Page D01
A half dozen scouts were milling around in the bleachers when the Williamsport High School team bus arrived at rival South Hagerstown High on a humid afternoon in mid-May. By the time Nick Adenhart, a Williamsport senior and one of the top-rated high school pitchers in the country, took the mound in the bottom of the first inning, the number had grown to about to two dozen.
It was the final regular season game of Adenhart's high school career, and many of the scouts had brought radar guns to clock the 95-mph fastball expected to make Adenhart a first-round pick in the baseball draft next month, a millionaire before his 18th birthday.
Facing the third batter of the game, he felt a pop in his elbow, just after throwing a curve. He beckoned longtime catcher David Warrenfeltz to the mound and said he would throw no more curveballs. But the fastballs didn't feel right either. A nod to the dugout brought out Williamsport Coach Rod Steiner, and just like that, Adenhart was done. Done for the day. Done for the season.
The scouts and cross-checkers -- some of whom had traveled from California and Texas and New Jersey and South Carolina -- shook their heads and laughed in disbelief as they packed up. Adenhart's mother and stepfather rushed to the concession stand, coming back with a bag of ice as scouts scattered with cell phones and breaking news.
"The bad news was all across the country 10 minutes after he walked off the field," one said. "There's about 50 Nick Adenharts out there; we're off to see if the next kid can pitch."
Within the next two weeks, Adenhart would have two MRI exams. He would fly to Alabama to consult with a famed orthopedist. He would learn of the partial ligament tear in his elbow and what it would take to repair it: so-called Tommy John surgery, named after the former New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher whose career was saved after surgeons replaced the ligament in his left arm with a tendon from his right.
Adenhart had never struggled with injuries. He had been on strict pitch counts the past two years, going past 100 pitches once or twice. His parents had taken out a considerable insurance policy from Lloyd's of London to guard against career-ending injury. To be safe, Adenhart sat out the basketball season and then stopped playing the field between pitching appearances.
"They did everything right -- I've never met a family that did everything right," said John Castleberry, a regional scout for the Texas Rangers. "It just shows you how fragile everything is. . . . We get to know these kids just like everybody else, and when you get a good kid like Nick, it's sad.
"It's not like it's over, either; we're not putting a nail in his coffin. In three years, we hope this guy's going to be as good as gold."
The tales are seven or eight years old, literally a half-lifetime ago. The stories are about Nick, because this was "a person who could go by one name, even in Little League," said Warrenfeltz, the catcher. "When people said Nick, everybody knew who you were talking about."
Nick pitched the Little League all-star team to the state tournament as an 11-year-old, was so untouchable as a 12-year-old that a desperate opponent attempted to steal home on a throw back from the catcher, and had registered in the mid-eighties on a radar gun as a 13-year-old. Parents of opposing players would "just kind of stop talking" when they saw Nick warming up, according to his father, Jim Adenhart.
"It was absolutely incredible," said Wayne Main, who coached against a 12-year-old Adenhart. "I'm telling you, it was him and the catcher, and that's all they needed. I mean, you had no chance."
As a freshman at Saint Maria Goretti, a Catholic school in Hagerstown that attracted Adenhart because of its basketball program, he encountered his first major league scout during a trip to North Carolina. The scout told him to "work hard," and he excitedly called his parents to share the news.
That summer, he wowed his first group of scouts during a summer league tryout, although he said he felt like "a deer in headlights -- well, more like a deer in radar guns."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company