Thursday night Nick Adenhart was living his dream. He had made the Opening Day roster of a Major League team at the young age of 22. Although he did not get the win, he did his job to make that happen, pitching six scoreless innings, giving up only seven hits in dominating the A's.
The game started less than six hours before his life would be cut short. At 12:17 AM, the vehicle Adenhart was riding in was broadsided by a drunk driver.
Adenhart became the latest victim that gets chalked up to being in "the wrong place at the wrong time."
The story is all too familiar. It happens every day in this country. Somewhere, someone wakes up to the news that one of their loved ones has become the latest victim.
For some reason when this happens to an athlete it hits closer to home. Maybe it is that we have heard the name of an up-and-coming prospect. Maybe it is because we imagine it happening to a player on our team.
I think the real reason it hits closer to home is because it reminds us that athletes are just as human as we are. We watch these people on TV, we root for them, or we root against them. When they are on our team we love them. When they are on the opposite team, we hate them.
True fans follow the lives of these players. We know their wives names, their kids names, where they were raised, what kind of music they listen to, the charities that they are involved with, where they like to eat and what their hobbies are in the offseason.
True fans fall in love with the players who play the game that they love. We admire their dedication and their work ethic. We admire the talent that got them to the level that most can only dream of, and we admire the way that they carry themselves on and off the field.
We have followed their lives. We know more about them than we know about some of our aunts and uncles. Even though we have never met them, we feel like we know them. We have identified with them and feel that we would be friends.
Sports gives us the opportunity to stay young. We can hold onto our childhood and look fondly upon these players as super-human. The way that we saw our older brothers. They are supposed to be invinsible. They are supposed to be immune to tragedy. They are supposed to be there forever.
Sports give us the opportunity to tune out the "real world." We don't have to think about a global economic crisis, or that jobs are going away, or that the stock market is tumbling.
When something like this happens, our fantasy world is shattered, and we realize that this is still the real world. That these players deal with the same things that we deal with. Even though they make more money than we could dream about and their day at work runs across the bottom line of ESPN, they deal with the same issues that we do.
That is why it is so difficult to swallow when an "accident" like this happens.
The baseball world was just being introduced to Nick Adenhart. He was 22 years old and already in the Major Leagues. He was someone who over the next 10-15 years we would follow. We would know every contract that he would sign, we would know every game that he would win or lose, we would know his ERA, we would know how many innings he pitched.
We would know Nick Adenhart.
Because of the actions of one truly irresponsible person, we have lost an opportunity to know Nick Adenhart. Sure, tomorrow the Angels will call up a new prospect tomorrow. Someone who we will get to know. Maybe for a long time, maybe for a short time. But it won't be Nick Adenhart.
The baseball world, probably the closest family in sports, has lost one of its youngest members.
Just like in real life, the earth continues to spin, lives continue to move forward, games will be played, Opening Day celebrations will be held. Even the Angels will take the field, less than 48 hours removed from losing one of their own.
Life will continue, tomorrow the sun will come up and we will be faced with the realities of this world. After a while we will once again be buried in our fantasy world. It will once again be our escape from the troubles of this world. We will get to know the players, we will immerse ourselves in their lives. We will do this, until the next time a tragedy happens. The unfortunate thing is that it will happen again. We hope that it won't be soon, but the reality is, we cannot guess who will be involved or where it will happen.
Tonight, all we can do is wish Nick Adenhart's family and friends the best. Their loss is far greater than our loss.