WILLIAMSPORT, MD., AND MINNEAPOLIS — Catching his breath every few moments, Jim Adenhart explained to the hushed crowd that the greatest day of his life was when his nine-pound, three-ounce baby boy was born. Then, in detail, he relayed his final conversation with his son last week, after Nick Adenhart had pitched the best game of his brief major league career.
Father and son were in a hotel together in Southern California when the 22-year-old Angels rookie right-hander asked his father if it was OK if he went out with friends for a little while to celebrate.
"Unbeknownst to me, that was the last time I saw him," the father said, choking back tears during an emotional, hour-long memorial service attended by about 1,500 people at Adenhart's old high school gymnasium Friday night in Williamsport, Md.
Adenhart and two friends died April 9 in Fullerton when the car they were riding in was struck by a minivan whose driver ignored a red light. That driver has been charged with three counts of murder as well as fleeing an accident and DUI-related felonies.
Hours before the crash, Adenhart, making his first start of the season and fourth of his big league career, pitched six shutout innings against the Oakland A's. When he saw his father, "he looked at me and said, 'What did you think of the hook I threw [Jason] Giambi?' I really couldn't reply," Jim Adenhart joked.
As the father walked away from the podium Friday, his final statement brought the teary crowd to its feet:
"August 24, 1986 was and always will be the greatest day of my life," Jim Adenhart cried. "I love you Nick, I love you."
It was the most touching public moment of what has been a difficult time for those who knew Adenhart. He was buried Thursday in a private ceremony attended by 200 people, including a contingent from the Angels.
Pitchers Jered Weaver, John Lackey and Dustin Moseley rejoined the Angels in Minneapolis on Friday after attending that private ceremony and talked about the emotions they felt.
"Gathering around the grave site and seeing an Angels hat on top of the casket . . . you see that, and you kind of lose it," Weaver said. "It hits home enough when you see Nick's empty locker. Seeing that hat on the casket really got to me."
So did seeing Adenhart's parents, Jim and Janet, in the front row of the church.
"There were tears of joy for what was being said about Nick and tears of pain," Weaver said. The team's contingent also included owner Arte Moreno and his wife, Carole, General Manager Tony Reagins, Manager Mike Scioscia, pitching coach Mike Butcher, communications director Tim Mead, scouting director Eddie Bane and scout Dan Radcliff, who signed Adenhart in 2004. Triple-A players Brandon Wood, Matt Brown, Bobby Wilson, Brad Coon and Ben Johnson were also there.
Weaver said he gave a "big stack of cards," letters written by Angels players and coaches, to Adenhart's parents.
Said Lackey, "Until we went to the funeral, it was kind of unreal, you still couldn't believe it happened. The funeral brought some closure. It doesn't make it any easier, but it becomes more real."
Lackey was able to speak at length with Adenhart's step-brother, Henry Gigeous, a high school freshman who plays baseball in the Chicago area.
"He's going to make a trip to California this summer to hang out with us," Lackey said. "He was really glad we came. That meant a lot."
Adenhart, Lackey said, will never be far from the Angels' thoughts.
"It's weird," Lackey said. "You'll go a couple of hours, handle your business, you'll be working out, and when you walk into the clubhouse and see his jersey it all comes back. It doesn't leave you. But I think that's a good thing. We should remember him."
Friday was a time for fans and townspeople to remember him as well. The Williamsport gym was open three hours before the memorial. Many who attended wore Adenhart's No. 34 jersey.
"The last week has been trying to a level that's unimaginable," Adenhart's stepfather, Duane Gigeous said.
A loop of video featuring pictures of Adenhart's life ran on a projection screen at one end of the gym.
Adenhart was remembered as someone who stayed humble despite riches and impending fame, and who had a soft spot for his grandmother's raspberry pies. But the message was clear: Adenhart's life was cut short yet brought great pleasure while it flickered.
One of the speakers, David Warrenfelz, was Adenhart's longtime catcher. "If I could take one more visit to the mound," he said, "I would tell him thank you for everyone in Williamsport who got to live their big league dreams through him."