They had been planning the trip for a couple of months now, since they saw the Los Angeles Angels' schedule. On Tuesday, April 28, Nick was supposed to come home. Ask anyone around Williamsport and Hagerstown: They had been gearing up for the hour-plus drive to Baltimore for months now.
"That was the plan," said Jereme Leazier, 24, a former classmate of Nick Adenhart's at Williamsport High. "We were always going to be here, even if it wasn't his night to pitch."
Sitting in the stands at Camden Yards on Tuesday night, Leazier was one of many fans wearing an Adenhart T-shirt. Nearly three weeks have passed since Adenhart, a 2004 graduate of Williamsport and a first-round draft pick of the Angels, died as a result of injuries suffered in a car accident. From the visitors' clubhouse at Camden Yards to the tightknit community 75 miles west of the ballpark, emotions are still raw.
Below the third-base stands where Leazier and his buddies were seated, in the bowels of the stadium, is the visiting team's clubhouse. Between catchers Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli was a locker for No. 34. Adenhart's jersey hung alone. The night's lineup card sat untouched on the stool.
The people of Western Maryland have been able to grieve privately. But because their workplace happens to be televised nationwide, the Angels have not.
"It's hard. It's tough to talk about that," Angels center fielder Torii Hunter said. "We want to move on, but we'll never, ever forget him. He's probably looking down on us and saying, 'Man, what are you guys doing? Don't get so down when you lose.' He's a competitor, he's a baseball player. I'm pretty sure he's looking down and [saying], 'Let's go, keep pushing.' He's in a better place. He's in a better place than we are. We got problems."
Since the accident, players have known they would close the season's first month in Adenhart's backyard, the first time they've been back in the area since an airplane whisked a handful of players and team personnel into and out of town for the funeral service.
"It seems like every day there's something that reminds you about him. This being his hometown and everything, it hits home for us," pitcher Jered Weaver said. "It's another reminder of his presence and what he meant. Each day, it's supposed to get a little easier, but at the same time, it's tough. He was so young, such a great guy. It would've been nice to be out here, just visiting his family, you know."
Weaver was supposed to move into an apartment with Adenhart just a couple of days after the crash. He was among the Angels' contingent at the funeral service. Before Tuesday's game, some players and coaches met again with Adenhart's family. They gathered together at the team's hotel and shared a few private moments.
"They're obviously trying to move forward," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We're happy they feel good enough to come out here."
While the team has tried to honor Adenhart's memory quietly and privately, they knew the trip to Baltimore would be accompanied by a lot of reminders and plenty of memories. Pitcher Dustin Moseley had heard his friend speak many times of home.
"We've tried to do everything we can to help console them," Moseley said. "While we're sitting here, still got to play, these guys have this on their heart all the time. As well as we knew him, these are his parents, best friends, people that have known him forever."
Moseley and several of his teammates left tickets for Adenhart's family and friends. The Orioles gave the family the owner's box, where Jim Adenhart, Nick's father, and many of his close friends watched the series opener.
Nearly 50 more friends were seated together on the third-base line. Greg Small, 23, had planned his visit to the ballpark months ago. He was here Tuesday night, wearing a shirt that had "34" on the chest.
"I mean, I get up in the morning, this is all I think about," he said. "I've never had to deal with death before. I cried for two straight days."
Small played Little League ball with Adenhart, serving as his catcher before Adenhart earned phenom status. He was with a couple of dozen friends the night of April 8 at Buffalo Wild Wings Grill and Bar. They were there until closing time, watching Adenhart pitch six shutout innings in his first start of the season.
The next day Small awoke early to a ringing telephone. That whole morning is a blur to him, he says.
Even nearly three weeks later, from the players in the dugout to the fans in the stands, life has been slow to come back into focus.
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