Even as a youth, Los Angeles Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart stood out among his peers.
David Warrenfeltz, who grew up with Adenhart outside Hagerstown and was his catcher at Williamsport High, 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 was among three people killed Thursday in a crash in Fullerton, Calif., when a minivan driven by an alleged drunken driver broadsided their car after running a red light, authorities said.
The crash occurred hours after Adenhart, 22, pitched six scoreless innings Wednesday night against the Oakland Athletics. 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.
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."
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."
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.
However, two weeks before the draft, Adenhart suffered an elbow injury so severe that reconstructive surgery was required. 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 convinced him in part with a $710,000 signing bonus.
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.