Even as a youth, Los Angeles Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart, a Maryland native, stood out among his peers.
David Warrenfeltz, who grew up with Adenhart outside Hagerstown and was his catcher at Williamsport High in Washington County, knew him from the time they were 6 or 7 years old.
"From a very young age, he was the best," said Warrenfeltz, who is a senior catcher at UMBC. "In Washington County, from the time he was 9 or 10, everybody knew who he was.
"The hardest part about this is that he was the kind of guy you always wanted around. He always had your back. As talented as he was, he was just one of the guys, real down-to-earth."
Adenhart and two other people were killed Thursday by an alleged drunk driver hours after the rookie pitched six scoreless innings in his first start of the season.
The Angels postponed Thursday night's game with Oakland.
The Angels organization and those who knew him from Maryland were shaken by the rookie's death. "We're all in shock," Angels general manager Tony Reagins said. "Nick had such a bright future. He was such a bright kid. We're going to deeply miss him. It's just so difficult to put into words how much he will be missed. He was a great person."
Dean Albany, a long-time scout and cross-checker for the Orioles, coached Adenhart for four years on the Oriolelanders. Adenhart joined the team at 14, though it was made up largely of older high school players.
"What a tragedy. He was just an incredible, incredible kid. Forget about baseball, just a fun-loving kid. He had a lot of talent, and he knew he had a lot of God-given talent, but he never was bigger or better than the team," Albany said. "I watched him pitch on TV last night. He pitched six shutout innings and I was talking to some scouts on the phone about how good he looked. ... Then you get up and you're brushing your teeth and you get a call that he's been killed in a car accident."
The 22-year-old Adenhart was a passenger in a car that was broadsided in an intersection in Fullerton, Calif., at about 12:30 a.m. by a minivan that apparently ran a red light, police said.
The impact spun around both vehicles, and one then struck another car but that driver was not hurt, police said.
Police arrested Andrew Thomas Gallo, 22, of San Bernardino, Calif., on suspicion of felony driving under the influence and vehicular manslaughter, said Lt. Kevin Hamilton of the Fullerton Police Department.
Adenhart died in surgery at the University of California, Irvine Medical Center. A 27-year-old man in the car and the driver, 20-year-old Courtney Frances Stewart, were pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
Stewart's mother said Adenhart and the others had gone dancing at a club about a street away from the crash site, although the crash scene appeared to indicate the car was heading in the direction of the club, Hamilton said.
A 21-year-old passenger in the van was treated for minor injuries, police said.
Adenhart's death came shortly after he made his fourth major league start in Wednesday's loss to Oakland. Adenhart's father had flown out from Baltimore to watch the game.
"He summoned his father the day before and he said, 'You better come here because something special's gonna happen,'" said Adenhart's agent, Scott Boras.
He threw six shutout innings, allowing seven hits while striking out five and walking three. The Angels lost, 6-4.
After the game, "he was so elated ... he felt like a major leaguer," Boras said, weeping.
'The kid who wouldn't quit'
Adenhart's rise with the Angels reflected his faith in the team and the team's faith in modern medicine. As a senior at Williamsport in 2004, Adenhart was projected to be one of the top picks in baseball's annual draft, which would have made him an instant millionaire.
Adenhart was 5-1 with a 0.91 ERA when, in a May 11 game against South Hagerstown, he injured his elbow and required surgery. Having already accepted a scholarship to the University of North Carolina, Adenhart did not expect to get drafted following the injury.
The Angels picked him anyway, in the 14th round. At that point, Adenhart had planned to have the operation, then play in college after rehabilitation and rebuild his status as a prospect.
But the Angels, confident in the success of Tommy John surgery, persuaded Adenhart to sign with them and rehabilitate under their care. They persuaded him in part with a $710,000 signing bonus.
Adenhart made his major league debut May 1 of last year, also against Oakland. He made two other starts, getting his only decision in a victory over the Chicago White Sox on May 12. He was 37-28 in the minor leagues from 2005-08, including 9-13 last year at Triple-A Salt Lake.
Adenhart struggled with a 9.00 ERA in three starts with the Angels last season, but Angels manager Mike Scioscia said last month the pitcher had worked hard over the winter and arrived at spring training with a purpose.
Adenhart, a right-hander, earned a spot in the starting rotation on an injury-plagued Angels staff by impressing Scioscia late in spring training. He began the season this week as the Angels' No. 3 starter because of injuries to John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar, all of whom are on the disabled list.
News of Adenhart's death was met with shock in the Orioles clubhouse prior to Thursday's series finale against the New York Yankees.
"That's the game I was watching,'' Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "I was with my son. We went back to my apartment and we were watching him pitch. It really puts things in perspective. Don't take anything for granted. Appreciate what you have. It's a very sad day for his family.
Orioles relief pitcher Dennis Sarfate worked out this summer with Adenhart.
"He had a bright future. He was going to be good for years, you could just tell," Sarfate said before the Orioles' game Thursday. "My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, and it's one of those things that hits home, and you just kind of want to go home and hang out for the day with your family just to get them close. It's sad."
The Minnesota Twins held moment of silence before their game against the Seattle Mariners. Also, there was to be a moment of silence before the start of the Texas Rangers' home game against the Cleveland Indians.
"I've known him since he was a kid," said Northeast High school coach Larry Williams, who operated the B.A.T.T. Academy in Glen Burnie, where Adenhart worked out in the winter.
"He was touted as being a potential top-one or two pick in the draft, but in his senior season in high school, he blew out his elbow and had Tommy John surgery. Everybody passed on him and the Angels took a flyer on him in the 14th round.
"I'm shocked, pure and simple. Great kid who worked very hard in the offseason. He was a guy the high school and college kids could look at his work ethic fighting back from the injury. Just a great story. The kid who wouldn't quit."
Adenhart is survived by his father, Jim, and mother, Janet. His family released a statement:
"Nick's family expresses sincere gratitude for all the help the Angels have provided. He lived his dream and was blessed to be part of an organization comprised of such warm, caring, and compassionate people. 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."
His career major league statistics will show four starts, one win and a 6.00 ERA. But to his friends, he will be remembered for more than his athletic ability.
"I've been getting calls all day from guys who me and Nick played with and against," Warrenfeltz said. "The first question is always, 'Is it true?' It's surreal. It doesn't seem like it could've happened."
Baltimore Sun reporters Dan Connolly and Peter Schmuck and the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.
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