Honoring #34: Nick Adenhart

Today marks the sixth anniversary of Nick Adenhart‘s death. The Silver Spring, Md., native was a rookie right-handed pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels.

Adenhart was a star prospect during his high school career, but in his final high school game, with over two dozen scouts in the stands, he felt his elbow pop early during the game. This turned out to be a torn ligament in his elbow that required Tommy John surgery. A projected first-round pick before the surgery, Adenhart plummeted to the 14th round and was selected 413th overall by the Los Angeles Angels in the 2004 MLB Draft. He made his professional debut on June 25, 2005 with the Pioneer League’s Orem Owlz, the Angels’ Rookie League affiliate. In his only appearance for the Owlz, he pitched six innings, allowed an unearned run, struck out seven, and earned the win.

In 2007, the right-hander quickly rose to become a top-ranked prospect in the Angels organization. Baseball America ranked him as the 34th-best prospect in baseball and second in the Angels organization. He was called up to the Double-A Arkansas Travelers for the 2007 season. In 26 appearances, he put up a record of 10-8 along with a 3.65 ERA. The following season, Adenhart was promoted to the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees, where he spent the greater part of the 2008 season. He was declared the 24th-best prospect in baseball later that year.

Adenhart was established as the best prospect in the Angels organization going into the 2009 season and was ranked 68th overall on Baseball America’s 2009 Top 100 Prospects list. During spring training he made six starts and had a 3-0 record with a 3.12 ERA over 26 innings pitched. He allowed only nine earned runs and five walks, while striking out 18. Adenhart earned a spot on the Angels staff and opened the 2009 season as the third starter.

Just after midnight on April 9, 2009, hours after making his season debut and pitching six scoreless innings against the Oakland Athletics, the 22-year-old Adenhart was shockingly killed along with two friends by a drunk driver in Southern California. He was a passenger in a silver Mitsubishi Eclipse that was broadsided in an intersection at about 12:30 a.m. by a red Toyota Sienna minivan that ran a red light. Adenhart’s friend Jon Wilhite, the third passenger in the car, was taken along with the rookie pitcher to the UC Irvine Medical Center, where Adenhart died during surgery as a result of his serious injuries. Wilhite was the only occupant of the Mitsubishi to survive the crash. He suffered internal decapitation and survived after undergoing five hours of intensive surgery to reattach his skull to his spine.

Adenhart’s family released this statement after his tragic death:

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.

The suspect, then 23-year-old Andrew Thomas Gallo, fled on foot, but was later was arrested by Orange County police. He had a blood-alcohol limit twice the legal limit and had a suspended license because of a previous drunk driving incident. Nearly two months after the tragedy, on May 27, 2009, Gallo was indicted by the Orange County grand jury on three counts of murder, one count each of felony hit-and-run, driving under the influence, driving with a .08 percent blood alcohol or higher and causing injury and death. On December 22, 2010, Gallo was convicted and sentenced to 51 years to life in prison.

The Angels and their Triple-A affiliate Salt Lake Bees immediately postponed their games after learning of Adenhart’s death. In memoriam, a black number 34 patch was placed above the heart on the Angels’ uniforms and his locker in the Angel Stadium of Anaheim clubhouse for the remainder of the 2009 season. The team also hung one of Adenhart’s No. 34 jerseys in their dugout during games. A black-and-white picture of Adenhart, along with his name and jersey number, was added to the center field wall at Angel Stadium. A shrine devoted to Adenhart was placed outside the home plate gates to Angel Stadium and maintained by Angels team personnel. A poster read, “No. 34, You are one more Angel in heaven.” Written on a baseball was, “Now you play for another Angels team.”

Although the shrine was removed in December 2009, every year on April 9th you can see somber Angel fans setting flowers and Angels apparel outside the stadium in remembrance of the righty who will always have a perfect record of 1-0. He posted a 6.00 ERA along with nine strikeouts and 16 walks in his career with Los Angeles.

Sometimes life isn’t fair and God takes away people who have impacted a great amount on our lives and we can never comprehend the reason why. In this case the man upstairs took away a young talented MLB pitcher way too early and may he rest in eternal peace.


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