By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 10, 2009; D01
Baseball mourned the loss of one of the game's most promising young pitchers yesterday after Los Angeles Angels right-hander Nick Adenhart, a 22-year-old from Hagerstown, Md., was killed along with two others in an early morning hit-and-run automobile accident in Fullerton, Calif. He was killed just hours after making a successful 2009 season debut.
Adenhart, 22, died after the Mitsubishi Eclipse in which he was riding with three other people was struck by a minivan that allegedly ran a red light not far from Angel Stadium, where Adenhart had thrown six scoreless innings in the Angels' loss to the Oakland Athletics. Two people in the Mitsubishi were pronounced dead at the scene, while Adenhart and a fourth person were taken to a nearby hospital.
Adenhart underwent emergency surgery but died yesterday morning. The fourth person, Jon Wilhite, 24, of Manhattan Beach, was in critical condition but is expected to survive.
The minivan's driver, identified by police as Andrew Thomas Gallo, 22, of Riverside, Calif., left the scene by foot but was apprehended nearby. Gallo, who according to police was driving on a suspended license from a previous conviction for driving under the influence, was booked on three counts of murder, three counts of vehicular manslaughter, felony hit-and-run and felony driving under the influence of alcohol.
An Angels spokesman said that Adenhart's father, Jim, had flown to California to see his son's season debut Wednesday night and was "obviously going through a great deal of grief." The spokesman said Adenhart's mother, Janet, was expected to fly to California yesterday evening.
Adenhart "lived his dream and was blessed to be part of an organization comprised of warm, caring and compassionate people," Adenhart's parents said in a statement released through the team. "The Angels were his extended family. Thanks to all of Nick's loyal supporters and fans throughout his career. He will always be in everyone's hearts forever."
The accident occurred just before 12:30 a.m. PDT. The driver of the Eclipse, who was among the deceased, was identified as Courtney Stewart, 20, of Diamond Bar, Calif. She was described as an acquaintance of Adenhart's who was accompanying him to a country music nightclub called In Cahoots after the game. Henry Nigel Pearson of Manhattan Beach, a 25-year-old passenger in the car, also was killed.
Adenhart, who attended Williamsport High outside Hagerstown, was a former 14th-round draft pick and the Angels' top-ranked prospect entering this season, according to Baseball America. He made the team's rotation partly because of injuries to three other starters. His start Wednesday night was the fourth of his big league career; he made three starts during a brief call-up last May.
"Obviously we're all in a state of shock," Angels General Manager Tony Reagins said at a news conference in Anaheim. "It's difficult to put into words how much Nick will be missed. He was a great person, and we are going to deeply miss him."
The Angels-Athletics game scheduled for last night was postponed, and a moment of silence was observed at other major league ballparks.
In the visiting clubhouse at Oriole Park at Camden Yards yesterday morning, the New York Yankees were preparing for an afternoon game against the Orioles, but the clubhouse stereo was turned off and all conversations ceased the moment the news went up on the television set. Players gathered around and watched grimly.
"You think of a young man who realizes his dream and pitches six shutout innings, and drives home and is gone," said Yankees Manager Joe Girardi, wiping away tears as he spoke of Adenhart. "Life is not supposed to be like that. I didn't even know the kid, and it's hard for me. He's just a little boy who dreamed about playing in the big leagues."
Orioles reliever Dennis Sarfate worked out with Adenhart over the winter near their Arizona homes, and called Adenhart a "really nice guy with a really bright future."
"You don't feel like playing after you hear something like that," Sarfate said. "It's one of those days where you just want to go home and hang out with your family for the day. You just feel terrible."
Adenhart was a phenom from an early age. At 11, he pitched his Little League all-star team to the state championship. At 12, he was so overpowering a rival coach was moved to say of him: "It was absolutely incredible. I'm telling you, it was him and the catcher, and that's all they needed. I mean, you had no chance." At 16, Baseball America named him its Youth Baseball Player of the Year.
"He always played with older guys, and he carried himself like a big leaguer when he was 16," said Dean Albany, an Orioles scout who coached Adenhart on summer league teams as a teenager. "This kid had moxie, but he was always humble and always about the team. This news is just sickening."
He attended Saint Maria Goretti High in Hagerstown as a freshman and sophomore before transferring to Williamsport, where he quickly became dominant. "He's the best I've ever seen," South Hagerstown Coach Ralph Stottlemyer told The Washington Post in 2004.
Adenhart opened his senior season by throwing a perfect game, and he finished 5-1 with an 0.73 ERA and an average of 19.8 strikeouts per nine innings. The No. 1-ranked high school prospect in the country by Baseball America, he was projected to be taken in the first few picks of the major league draft. But in the final regular season game, he suffered a torn ligament in his elbow, requiring ligament-replacement surgery. The injury kept him from pitching in the state playoffs and caused him to fall to the 14th round of the draft, where the Angels took him.
Adenhart, a solid student with a 3.2 GPA and a 1240 SAT score, was prepared to attend the University of North Carolina until the Angels offered a deal: a $710,000 signing bonus (equating to roughly a second-round pick) and the freedom to take two semesters of classes at Arizona State while rehabbing his surgically repaired elbow. Adenhart signed.
After recovering from the injury, he rose through the Angels' farm system, ranking as their sixth-best prospect in 2006 and their second-best in both 2007 and 2008, according to Baseball America. This spring, despite some struggles at both Class AAA and the major league level in 2008, Baseball America ranked him No. 1 in the Angels' system.
In spring training, he was given the chance to compete for a spot in the Angels' rotation, but wound up making it easily with veterans John Lackey (forearm strain), Ervin Santana (strained elbow ligament) and Kelvim Escobar (labrum surgery) all sidelined with injuries.
Adenhart's start Wednesday night was by far the best of his brief big league career. He struck out five batters and held the A's scoreless through his six innings, departing with a lead that the Angels' bullpen wound up blowing. After the game, he visited outside the clubhouse with his father and his agent, Scott Boras, before heading off with his friends.
"He summoned his father the day before and said, 'You'd better come here, because something special is gonna happen,' " Boras said at a news conference. Adenhart, he said, "was so elated. He felt like a major leaguer."