How good would he have been?
In Seattle now with the Angels, feeling their pain and unimaginable sense of desolation over the loss of Nick Adenhart, I am trying to carry on, but I still am numb, disoriented, not entirely here. My coping abilities clearly have limits.
It’s been six days. Six decades won’t be long enough to get over this.
This is essentially what Shane Loux was saying yesterday after a remarkable performance against the Mariners on a frigid day at Safeco Field in front of a packed house that had come to welcome Ken Griffey Jr. back to his original baseball home. We use the word courage much too often in sports, but I feel it’s a courageous effort for the Angels to just take the field at this time, let alone play the game at a high level.
Loux expressed a sentiment shared, I’m sure, by every Angels player, coach, manager Mike Scioscia and the entire organizational staff when he said Nick was in his thoughts all day long – and hasn’t left his thoughts since the horrible news came on Thursday morning.
The reader response to my post on Nick was heartwarming, but it also served to drive home the enormity of this loss. He was just getting started. I can’t seem to get past that right now, how it was all in front of him.
Friends have called, expressing various reactions, and one question I’m asked over and over is this: How good would Nick Adenhart have been if his career had played itself out?
My response generally goes something like this: “He’d have been great. How great, obviously, we’ll never know.” And that’s just tragic beyond words. He should have been allowed to fulfill his destiny.
When I first started watching Nick seriously, in 2008 in Arizona during Spring Training, I saw a remarkable resemblance in manner to Bobby Welch in his early days with the Dodgers. I recall writing something about that and then discussing it with Nick. I was drawn to his easy, laid-back manner, how he was so interested in everything I had to say about the game he loved. A lot of young people are preoccupied, quite naturally, with their own lives, but I sensed that Nick really enjoyed hearing about players from earlier times, what made them tick.
I also told him all about Don Sutton, another pitcher I covered who made it to the Hall of Fame with tools very similar to those of Nick Adenhart. Sutton wasn’t overpowering, but he could put his fastball where he wanted it and had a big, over-the-top curveball that complemented it beautifully. Sutton was a serious student of the game as a young man, absorbing everything he could, and that went a long way in making him the durable craftsman he became across two decades.
Sutton, I decided, was the type of pitcher Adenhart could become. Nick also had a dynamic changeup to go with the 92-94 mph heater and the 12-to-6 curve, and he had the burning desire to be great. It was concealed by a relaxed, almost nonchalant personal style, but I saw it in his eyes and felt it when we talked.
I’ll cherish for the rest of my days those conversations we had over the past two springs, how thrilled I was to watch him in his final performance against the Athletics. He pitched his way through trouble like a veteran that night, confident and in command.
Before the game, I was talking with Chone Figgins and Howard Kendrick when Nick walked past on his way to the training room. We’d talked about how he’d matured, how ready he was – and he gave me a look and a grin that told me everything I wanted to know.
He was ready for the challenge, fully prepared for the challenges awaiting him. He had found all the answers he’d been searching for, and now it was his time.
So, here’s my answer: I think he could have joined Don Sutton in the Hall of Fame someday. That’s how talented, how driven, Nick Adenhart was as a baseball player. As a person, he was a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, about as good as it gets.