Nick Adenhart was a life taken too soon. A young man only 22 years old, Adenhart was coming off the best performance of his major league career.
He had pitched six shutout innings of baseball for the Angels against their American League West division rivals, the Oakland A’s on April 8. Adenhart received a no-decision after allowing only seven hits and accruing five strikeouts, but it still was a performance of which to be proud. However, Adenhart would only have a few more hours to celebrate before his life was cut short.
Adenhart and three of his friends were on their way to a dance club to celebrate his victory, when they were struck by a minivan at the intersection of Orangethorpe and Lemon in Fullerton. The minivan was driven by a drunken Anthony Thomas Gallardo, also 22, who ran a red light and crashed into the side of the vehicle. Adenhart and two of his friends were killed, while another friend remains in critical condition.
Following the accident, there was an outpouring of sympathies and emotion over these tragic deaths. Thousands of people contributed to makeshift memorials at both the crash site and at the Angel Stadium in Anaheim.
These people, who were mostly all strangers to Adenhart, brought flowers, balloons, and mementos to place at the sites. Even I took my spare time to drive to the stadium to pay my respects and even shed a tear for a man I never knew.
Why would so many strangers come pay their respects and show such great emotion for someone they did not know? Some might have had loved ones involved in a drunk driving accident. Others may have known Adenhart or the others involved in the accident. I was personally in neither of those categories.
The most common thread amongst these people is that they are fans of the team, and fans of the game of baseball. Sports are a common thread that brings us all together. Adenhart had only 14 days major league experience, but he was as much a part of this giant family as my own cousins.
He was a burgeoning talent and the No. 1 prospect in the Angels organization. Thousands had watched him pitch the night before. They cheered for him and rode the emotions of the game with him. While all of this was done indirectly, it was still a shared human experience.
After all these people mourned, there was still the need to remember that without Adenhart, baseball, as well as life, still goes on. The game still had to be played.
On Friday, the Angels and Red Sox teams both paused to remember Adenhart’s life. As the moment of silence ended, the stadium public address announcer proclaimed, “Let’s play ball.” Adenhart’s death would no longer be a sorrow, but an inspiration. And it truly was, as the Angels played their most inspired game of the season in a 6-3 victory.
The Angels’ slogan this year is “Fan Strong.” After this tragedy, it is truer than ever. Sports bring us all together. Sports can bring social problems to light, as it has now done with drunk driving, and as it has done in the past with steroids. Baseball can be used as an allegory for the American culture and spirit.
Thanks to sports, tragic events, such as the death of Nick Adenhart, can bring together a diverse group of people to produce a great common feeling. Thanks to sports, the light of hope and the promise of a new day can be shown.