An athlete dying young

Our view: There's little consolation to be found in loss of Hagerstown star

April 12, 2009

The time you won your town the race

We chaired you through the market-place;

Man and boy stood cheering by,

And home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come,

Shoulder-high we bring you home,

And set you at your threshold down,

Townsman of a stiller town.

A. E. Housman wrote "To An Athlete Dying Young" to offer some consolation in the tragedy of a promising life cut short. But knowing that Nick Adenhart, the 22-year-old pitcher from Hagerstown killed last week in a hit-and-run accident, will be remembered forever young and vital - as the British poet viewed a champion runner - seems hopelessly insufficient, a foolishly romanticized view of death.

Mr. Adenhart had just pitched a game that looked to be the breakthrough point of a potentially brilliant career when a minivan ran a red light in Fullerton, Calif., and plowed into a vehicle in which he was a passenger. Police say the van's driver was drunk and driving on a suspended license. The crash took place hours after the right-hander's 2009 season debut with the Los Angeles Angels, the fourth start of his big league career. He threw six scoreless innings that night with his father Jim in the stands.

What does it take to rise from the ball fields of Washington County to the best high school ballplayer of his age in Maryland to 14th round major league draft choice to the Angels' top pitching prospect? Talent is just the starting point. It requires a desire, a hunger, a level of effort that most of us cannot imagine. Yet friends say Nick Adenhart was humble, a regular guy driven by an extraordinary dream. Family, friends and fans will look for solace in a young pitcher's death and find little. But one thing the poet had right is that those who knew Mr. Adenhart will always be proud of what he accomplished in the short time he had available. It was less than he deserved, but it was still something remarkable.

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