- The Washington Times - Friday, April 10, 2009

(AP) — Hours after pitching his best game yet in the major leagues, Los Angeles Angels rookie Nick Adenhart, a Silver Springs, Md. native, was killed by a suspected drunk driver, leaving his teammates and fans stunned because he won’t be around to fulfill the promise he had shown.

The Angels planned to pay tribute to the 22-year-old pitcher before Friday night’s opener of a three-game series against Boston in Anaheim. They will wear a patch or emblem on their jerseys the rest of the season to honor him.

Adenhart attended Williamsport High, in Williamsport, Md.

Jill Selby and her son, of Boonsboro, Md., have set up a makeshift memorial near the baseball field at Williamsport High School — the site where the young pitching prospect threw before professional scouts, according to the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.

The memorial included flowers and a sign that read, Adenhart #34 Always Our Angel. Mrs. Selby said she watched Adenhart pitch Wednesday night on television.

I was devastated, she told the newspaper. Hes our local hero.

The team postponed Thursday night’s series finale against Oakland to mourn Adenhart, who was killed along with two other passengers in a car crash early Thursday in neighboring Fullerton.

The car they were riding in was broadsided in an intersection by a minivan that apparently ran a red light, police said.

Andrew Thomas Gallo, 22, of Riverside, was driving on a suspended license because of a previous drunk driving conviction. Preliminary results indicated Mr. Gallo’s blood-alcohol level was “substantially over the legal limit” of .08 percent, police Lt. Kevin Hamilton said.

Mr. Gallo was booked into jail on three counts of murder, three counts of vehicular manslaughter, felony hit-and-run and driving under the influence of alcohol. No bail was set.

Fans also paid their respects outside Angel Stadium on Thursday as news spread of Adenhart’s death. They placed flowers, baseballs, posters and Rally Monkeys at a makeshift memorial on the pitcher’s mound on the replica brick infield near the stadium gates.

After 17-year-old Kayla McGuire laid her flowers next to the others, she and two friends stood silently staring at the display. “It’s sad,” she said. “He was a rookie who could have had a really good future.”

Inside the clubhouse, the team met privately to remember Adenhart, who made the major league opening day roster for the first time in his career after overcoming a devastating elbow injury and subsequent surgery in 2004.

“A lot of these guys in here have never lost anybody in their family that’s close to them. I hate that this happened, but this is part of life. This is the real deal,” outfielder Torii Hunter said. “That’s why you’ve got to kiss your kids, kiss your family every day when you get up in the morning and before you leave for work.”

Adenhart was killed hours after making his season debut with his father in the stands, throwing six scoreless innings against the Oakland Athletics. The Angels ultimately lost the game, 6-4. “It is a tragedy that will never be forgotten,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

Adenhart’s father, Jim, a retired Secret Service agent, walked onto the field in the empty stadium Thursday and spent several moments alone on the pitcher’s mound. Wearing a red sweatshirt in the team’s color, he briefly covered his eyes with one hand.

Mr. Adenhart also spoke during the clubhouse gathering.

“He just wanted to say thank you for the opportunity, thank you for raising his kid in minor league ball on up through the system in the Angels’ organization,” Hunter said.

Adenhart died in surgery at a hospital. Henry Pearson of Manhattan Beach, a 25-year-old passenger in the car, and the driver, 20-year-old Courtney Stewart of Diamond Bar, were pronounced dead at the scene, police said.

Mr. Stewart was a student at nearby Cal State Fullerton, where she was a former cheerleader. Another passenger, 24-year-old Jon Wilhite of Manhattan Beach, was in critical condition, although he was expected to survive, a hospital spokesman said. Mr. Wilhite played baseball from 2004-08 at Cal State Fullerton.

Mr. Stewart’s mother said Adenhart and the others had gone dancing at a club about a block away from the crash site.

At the ballpark Wednesday night, Adenhart made just his fourth major league start and left with a 4-0 lead, before the bullpen gave away what would have been his second big league win.

During Thursday’s closed-door session, “we were just kind of reminiscing about what Nick brought to the team, to the clubhouse,” Hunter said.

“He was a very funny kid and he’s going to be missed,” he said. “Every time you come to the stadium and you go in that clubhouse, you’re looking at Nick Adenhart’s locker.”

Adenhart had made a slow climb to reach the majors.

He hurt his pitching elbow two weeks before the June 2004 major league draft, when he was projected as a top-five pick out of Williamsport High in Maryland.

The setback dropped him to the 14th round, where the Angels selected him anyway. He had Tommy John surgery a reconstructive operation on an elbow ligament later that month and spent most of next four seasons in the minors.

Adenhart had a 9.00 ERA in three starts for the Angels last season, but Scioscia said last month the right-hander had worked hard over the winter and arrived at spring training with a purpose.

He was made the No. 3 starter as the season began this week because of injuries to John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar, all of whom are on the disabled list.

AP Sports Writer Ken Peters in Anaheim, Calif., contributed to this report.

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