A Father's Love Brings 1,500 To Their Feet

Nick Adenhart Memorial Service

April 18, 2009|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,dan.connolly@baltsun.com

WILLIAMSPORT -Catching his breath every few moments, Jim Adenhart explained to the hushed crowd that the greatest day of his life was when his 9-pound, 3-ounce baby boy was born. Then, in detail, he relayed his final conversation with his son last week, after Nick Adenhart had pitched the greatest game of his brief major league career.

Father and son were in a hotel together in Southern California when the Los Angeles Angels rookie right-hander, 22, asked his father whether it was OK if he went out with friends for a little while to celebrate.

"Unbeknownst to me, that was the last time I saw him," the father said, choking back tears during an emotional, hourlong memorial service held in Adenhart's old high school gymnasium Friday night.

Adenhart, the Angels' top prospect and the pride of this small town in Western Maryland, and two friends died April 9 on their way to a nightclub when the car they were riding in was struck by a minivan driven through a red light in Fullerton, Calif., police said. The minivan driver, Andrew Thomas Gallo, 22, has been charged with three counts of murder as well as fleeing an accident and driving-under-the-influence-related felonies.

Attempting to put the tragedy in perspective, Adenhart's father brought the crowd of about 1,500, many of them wearing Angels gear, to a standing ovation.

"August 24, 1986, was and always will be the greatest day of my life," Jim Adenhart cried. "I love you, Nick, I love you."

It was the most touching public moment of what has been an extremely difficult time for those who knew Adenhart. He was buried Thursday in a private ceremony attended by 200 people, including a contingent from the Angels. Friday, the Williamsport gym was opened three hours before the memorial service to accommodate fans, friends, family and townspeople who wanted to pay their respects.

A loop of video featuring pictures of Adenhart's life - as a toddler in an Orioles cartoon-bird helmet, as an elementary-schooler fishing, as a teen posing with Cal Ripken Jr., and, of course, Adenhart in varying stages of playing baseball from Little League to the Angels - ran on a projection screen at the far end of the gym.

Next to the screen were more snapshots of Adenhart and a host of flower arrangements, including ones from baseball commissioner Bud Selig, the Angels organization, Angels outfielder Torii Hunter and his family, Angels reliever Scot Shields and his family, the Anaheim Police Association and three from the Boston Red Sox organization.

Friday's 10 speakers included several of Adenhart's family members and old teammates, including his longtime catcher, David Warrenfeltz, who plays at UMBC. The theme was the same: Adenhart's life was cut too short, but it provided plenty of joy while it flickered.

"If I could take one more visit to the mound," Warrenfeltz said, "I would tell him thank you for everyone in Williamsport who got to live their big league dreams through him."

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