Touched by an Angel
Saturday, April 18, 2009
WILLIAMSPORT, Md., April 17 -- They threw open the doors to the Williamsport High School auditorium a few minutes before 4 p.m. Friday, the sky a brilliant pale blue, the parking lot already filling up, Nick Adenharts of every vintage -- Halfway Little League, Williamsport High, the Arkansas Travelers, the Los Angeles Angels -- making their way toward the doors. The rainbow of Adenhart jerseys, new and vintage, outnumbered dark suits and dresses by a factor of perhaps 100 to 1.
Four hours later, the doors were flung open again, and some 1,500 mourners streamed out into the cool night air, the weekend just underway. But whatever eyes were dry when the memorial began, recalling a 22-year-old friend, teammate and family member who had just begun to realize his vast potential on the night he was killed, were dry no longer.
"I love you, Nick," said Jim Adenhart, the pitcher's father and the last of the service's 10 speakers, clasping his hands together and raising them toward heaven. "I love you."
Eight days had passed since Nicholas James Adenhart, the promising Angels rookie who had just completed the best start of his nascent big league career, was killed along with two friends in an automobile accident in Fullerton, Calif., after a minivan ran a red light and struck their Mitsubishi Eclipse.
The driver of the minivan, Andrew Thomas Gallo, also 22, has been charged with three counts of murder, driving under the influence and hit-and-run.
At Friday's memorial service, at the high school where Adenhart used to draw flocks of scouts whenever he took the mound, Gallo was never mentioned, and the accident itself was spoken of only fleetingly.
"There was a piece of us that pitched against the Oakland Athletics that night," said Josh Carter, a former Williamsport High teammate and now a reverend, speaking of Adenhart's six scoreless innings in his 2009 debut for the Angels just hours before the accident, "and a part of us that died the following morning."
Just off Interstate 81 Friday afternoon, a sign warned that Clifton Drive would be one-way, entering the high school, until 7 p.m. With the Catoctin Mountains rising beyond the sunken football stadium, a steady stream of cars and trucks rolled into the parking lot.
Inside, the smell of flowers. The basketball goals folded up into the rafters. The state championship banners hanging on one wall, "Home of the Wildcats" painted on the other. At the far wall, a display of photos and flower arrangements. The Angels sent a bouquet, as did the Boston Red Sox. There was one from Major League Baseball, and one each from teammates Torii Hunter and Scot Shields.
On a large screen, a slideshow of Adenhart's life played to a soundtrack of country tearjerkers and Christian ballads. Baby Nick at the beach, Nick at his prom, Nick shaking hands with Cal Ripken. In one photo, a young boy poses before his birthday cake, in the shape of a baseball diamond. There were four candles.
Adenhart's mother, Janet Gigeous, did not speak at the memorial, but her husband and Nick's stepfather, Duane Gigeous, read a letter she had written to her son after his death.
"When you called me after the game, the accomplished tone in your voice and the satisfaction in your words is something I had longed to hear from you," her letter said. " . . . I said I had never been happier for you. The joy you brought us on and off the field will be with us forever. You are an angel forever. God will care you for now."