If life were a person, he or she would be a cruel magician. He/she would amaze people with his/her tricks. Miraculous feats would elicit praise; sudden catastrophes would engender shock; pleasant surprises would create appreciation; disappointing setbacks would produce distrust. And then there would be the final act, which in most instances would bring about tears, and in a rare few would stimulate pure hatred.
Nick Adenhart had lived the dream life of a young kid with aspirations to be a major league baseball player. Like most boys who grow up with a baseball-loving father, he had played little league ball, and, like some who have a gift for the game, he had progressed through high school as a star. A top pitching prospect, he was projected as a high draft pick in 2004 when, just two weeks before the draft, he badly injured his pitching elbow.
The L.A. Angels of the American League still took a chance on Adenhart, drafting him in spite of the major surgery he underwent to repair the injury. He then began that slow climb up the ladder of the minor leagues, progressing one level each year, until he earned a call-up to the big league club last year. He made three undistinguished starts and then was returned to the minors, perhaps having blown his only shot.
This year he was projected to start at the highest minor league level again when three of the Angels’ front-line pitchers suffered injuries. As a result, Adenhart was selected to fill an open spot in the Angels’ rotation, and last week, in the Angels’ third game of the season, he got his first start of the year.
Obviously feeling good about his prospects going into the game, Adenhart called his father in Maryland and urged him to fly out to Anaheim for the game. “He told his dad that he’d better come here (to Anaheim), that something special was going to happen,” Scott Boras, Adenhart’s agent, said later.
Jim Adenhart did fly out to watch his son pitch that game last Thursday night, and he did see something special, as Adenhart pitched six scoreless innings as the Angels’ starting pitcher. The young player was elated with his performance, feeling that all the hard work he’d gone through for all of those years was now going to pay off with a big league career as a star pitcher. The dream of his childhood was now finally going to be realized.
But the cruel magician had other plans for Nick Adenhart. Later than same evening, after celebrating with three friends, the car in which Adenhart was a passenger was struck violently by a pickup driven by a drunk driver who ran a red light. Adenhart and two of his friends were killed; the third friend was initially in critical condition, but is now expected to survive.
Nick Adenhart was 22 years old. Having worked hard throughout his childhood and adolescence (no ball player makes it to the major leagues without working very hard at his craft), he had the brightest of futures. He had overcome a career-threatening injury, rehabilitating successfully from major surgery to repair his pitching elbow. He had paid his dues in the minor leagues, living on slaves’ wages while riding the bus from one Podunk town to another. He had maintained his composure after getting knocked around pretty good in his brief major league stint last year and had handled the ignominy of being sent down from the major league club after failing in his first shot. He had survived the setbacks and disappointments and had attained his life-long goal.
And then, there was the all-too-soon, all-too-unjust final act that the cruel magician played on Nick, his father, and the thousands of people who had come to regard him as a rising star in a sport that rewards such people very handsomely.
I have no great point to make here. That life is hard is not even open to debate. Everyone struggles and few ever get to experience the height of success that Nick Adenhart, even if ever so briefly, realized. But to try to make sense of the reality of life, the cruel magician character of life, is beyond the capability of me or of anyone else.
On the day following Adenhart’s death, Vin Scully, the legendary broadcaster for the Dodgers, said it simply enough: “I have learned very little in my life,” he said, “but one thing I have learned is not to try to make any sense of what happens to any of us.”
It isn’t the lament of a non-believer. I understand Scully to be a devout Irish Catholic. It is, rather, the recognition by one who has lived long enough to understand that nothing about life is logical or comprehensible or, most assuredly, just.
Things happen. They are caused by other things. Some of them seem to be under our control; others clearly are not.
The driver of the vehicle that killed Adenhart and his friends was driving with a suspended license, the result of previous drunk driving convictions. After barreling into Adenhart’s car while speeding through a red light, the driver exited his vehicle and fled the scene. He was apprehended 30 minutes later and faces multiple charges that will probably send him to prison for 25 years or more. He, like his most noteworthy victim, was only 22 years old.
Justice? Not for Nick Adenhart and his friends. Life played its final trick on them, and for Nick it was a most cruel one, following as it did on the previous tricks (having the gift for the game, overcoming the career-threatening injury, successfully climbing through the minors, getting a big break to make the major league roster this year, pitching a headline-grabbing game in his one and only start of the year).
In the end, Nick Adenhart’s life epitomized all of the cruel magician’s tricks. His steady ascension to the pinnacle of major league success highlighted life’s miraculous wonderment; his sudden, wholly unjust death evidenced clearly and decisively how cruel it can all too frequently be.