Angels player Mike Napoli writes in the dirt in front of a mural of Nick Adenhart prior to a game against the Cleveland Indians on July 28.
Angels player Mike Napoli writes in the dirt in front of a mural of Nick Adenhart prior to a game against the Cleveland Indians on July 28. (Alex Gallardo / Los Angeles Times)
When Nick Adenhart picked up his father, Jim, from the airport April 7, the Angels pitcher spoke excitedly about his first start of the season, against the Oakland Athletics, the next night.

"He went through the A's lineup -- what this guy liked, what he didn't like, what he was going to throw them," Jim Adenhart said. "After he was finished, I put my arm on his shoulder and said, 'Man, you sound like a pro.' "

On April 8 at Angel Stadium, Nick Adenhart, a 22-year-old right-hander making only his fourth big league start, showed the promise that comes with being an organization's top pitching prospect, throwing six shutout innings against the A's.

A few hours later, Adenhart was dead, killed when the car in which he was a passenger was broadsided by an allegedly drunk driver in a Fullerton intersection. Two friends of Adenhart's, Courtney Stewart and Henry Pearson, were also killed.

In the span of about four hours, Jim Adenhart went from the euphoria of seeing Nick throw a big league gem to the devastation of losing his only child in a horrific crash.

"Last year, Nick had the skills, but he didn't have the mental approach," Jim Adenhart said. "He really matured in the last eight or nine months. If he stayed injury-free, he would have really had his chance. I thought this was the year. . . . That's what's tough."

It has been a little more than four months since the April 9 crash, and Adenhart has been coping with the tragedy as best he can, going to bereavement counseling and reading several books on the subject.

Sunday, he made the drive from his home in Hagerstown to Camden Yards and met with Manager Mike Scioscia and several coaches and players for an hour before the Angels' game against the Orioles. Afterward, he gave his first extended interview since Nick's death.

"There is really no blueprint on how to deal with this," Adenhart said. "Sometimes you feel like you're getting a grasp on it, and then something will come out of the blue that will set me back."

In the last month, Adenhart has been having dreams that he described as "kind of disturbing."

In one, "I will see Nick in a restaurant," he said. "I'll go in . . . I'll see him from the back, and then he's gone. That one stuck with me for three or four days."

In his most recent dream, "My wife called and said Nick will be at the house," said Adenhart, who is divorced from Nick's mother, Janet. "She said, 'They made a mistake; he didn't really die.'

"I was really excited. Then I woke up, and reality hit. I don't know what to expect every time I lay my head down at night, but it's got to get better."

It helped, Adenhart said, to see Nick's jersey in a Camden Yards locker Sunday and to know the Angels have kept Adenhart's home locker intact and have a locker for him in every road clubhouse.

"It's a good feeling," Adenhart said. "At first, when I saw it, I was taken aback a bit. But it's good to know they're keeping a commitment to keeping his memory alive."

It also helps that several members of the organization, especially Tim Mead, vice president of communications, and pitching coach Mike Butcher, who were at the hospital the night Nick was killed, have kept in touch on a weekly basis.

"These guys have been super," Adenhart said. "I appreciate that Nick was drafted by the Angels, that they showed confidence in him and got him through rehab" for elbow surgery after he was drafted.

"If these guys were not in the waiting room when the surgeon gave me the news, I don't know what I would have done. They were there for support. They've been there from the beginning. I'm an Angels fan forever."

He's becoming a better Angels fan this summer. After the crash, Adenhart didn't watch many games or follow the team that much through the media.

But as the Angels surged in June and July, overcoming Adenhart's death and numerous injuries to move into first place in the American League West, Adenhart's interest in the team was rekindled.

"It was hard at first -- everyone has a different reaction to these things," Adenhart said. "But I started creeping back into reading the sports page. Seeing how they're doing . . . I'm slowly making it back. I can watch these guys. It's getting a little better."

Nick would have turned 23 on Aug. 24, and to commemorate his birthday, Hagerstown will name a Little League field after him. Jim is sure there will be as many blue crab -- Nick's favorite -- served as there will be fond memories of his son.

A Nov. 9 trial date in Orange County Superior Court has been scheduled for the man charged in the crash. Andrew Thomas Gallo, 22, of San Gabriel faces three counts of second-degree murder and three other felonies and could get more than 54 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

Asked whether he had any strong feelings toward Gallo, Adenhart said, "It was fate. It was going to happen, whether it was Nick or someone else. Sometimes I have some resentment toward him, but overall, I'm trying not to harbor any resentment."

He has no plans to attend the trial.

"Am I going to relive something I don't want to relive?" he said.

Ironically, Adenhart, who works as a corrections officer at the Washington County Detention Center, did relive the accident a mere two weeks after Nick was killed.

While driving his Honda Accord on April 24 through an intersection in Hagerstown, Adenhart was hit by a pickup truck, but he suffered only minor injuries, including a burned knee.

"It was two blocks from my house, and a guy ran a red light," Adenhart said. "I thought he was going to T-bone me, and he was in a pretty big truck. I saw him coming and froze."

But whether it was instinct or reaction, Adenhart took evasive action.

Just in the Nick of time.

"Something or somebody had me hit that accelerator so that I didn't bear the full brunt of the collision," Adenhart said. "I believe someone special was behind that."