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Angels' fans couldn't forget Nick Adenhart

Shrine sprung up after the young pitcher's death in April and remained throughout the season and beyond. Items will be given to his family.

December 13, 2009|By Bill Shaikin
  • Angels fan Leslie Murrill of Huntington Beach takes a photo of the makeshift Nick Adenhart memorial in front of Angel Stadium. Murrill is like many fans, who have visited the memorial ''30 to 40 times,'' she said.
Angels fan Leslie Murrill of Huntington Beach takes a photo of the makeshift… (Gina Ferazzi, Los Angeles…)

Red caps have faded toward pink. Sympathy cards have yellow tinges around the edges. The rainbow of stuffed monkeys -- red, blue, beige, brown, purple -- has dulled.

The tender loving care has not.

We lost Nick Adenhart eight months ago. The baseball season has come and gone, and still fans come to Angel Stadium, to celebrate and to mourn, to smile and to cry, at that special place in front of the ballpark.

"That's a new candle," Susan Weiss said the other day.

Weiss is the tender loving caretaker. She walks by just about every day, propping up the baseballs to prevent them from rolling away, straightening a row of caps blown apart in the breeze, extracting bits of broken glass from a candle holder or a stray beer bottle.

Out of tragedy has come this oasis of civility and grace.

It is in the dignity of the man who removes his cap, in the poignancy of the woman who sheds a tear, in the warmth of the parent who hugs his child as he tells Adenhart's story.

It is in the decency of the players from opposing teams, stopping all summer to pay their respects at this makeshift memorial. It is in the kindness of the 10-year-old boy who stopped Weiss one day as she was cleaning the area and asked whether he could help.

"He wanted to be a part of it," she said.

We all did, or so it seemed. Adenhart and two friends died early the morning of April 9 in a car crash not long after the 22-year-old rookie had thrown six shutout innings in his first start of the season.

Just hours later, as his father bid farewell from atop the pitchers' mound inside the stadium, a garden sprung from atop the brick mound outside the main entrance. Fans gently placed bouquets of flowers there, hundreds of them, along with candles, stuffed animals and personal notes.

"All of a sudden, it was just here," Weiss said. "We wanted to watch over it."

Weiss works in the Angels' ticket office, a few steps away. She has tended to the shrine ever since, with the help of her colleagues in the ticket office, the maintenance staff and, if you ask her, pretty much everyone in the organization, up to President John Carpino and owner Arte Moreno.

When the flowers died, she removed them. When the caps piled too high, she collected the weathered ones and put them in a bag, hundreds of them.

"You can't throw them out," she said. "We don't feel comfortable doing that."

When the damp evenings arrived, she either covered the area with plastic or packed everything up and moved it inside, then put it all back out again, ever so neatly. When the items got too dirty for her liking, they got a good wash.

Every item is special, from the handwritten poems to the cap from Adenhart's triple-A team, from the red cross to the cigar box with a Jr. Angels Kids' Club sticker on the outside and a child's cap, three small baseballs and a stuffed animal of indeterminate species on the inside.

But perhaps no item is more special than the colorful painting on the easel, rising above the caps and balls and cards on the ground. The painting, by an Anaheim artist named Robert Holton, captures Adenhart in mid-stride, in colors bright and bold.

No one commissioned it. He just did it.

"It was a sad thing to see this person looking up at you while you're painting," Holton said, "and he's gone."

Holton stops by every now and then, stepping gingerly through all those caps and balls and cards so he can touch up those colors. When the picture needed a new frame, Holton showed up with that too.

"We were so sure somebody would end up taking that picture," Weiss said. "Nobody has ever touched it."

The impromptu town square touched all of us, a spot to pause in the daily rush from our homes to our cars and back again.

Not a day went by last summer when fans did not gather to reflect, to remember Adenhart and the other victims of that car accident -- Henry Pearson and Courtney Stewart, who also died, and Jon Wilhite, who survived even after his skull was torn off his spinal cord in the crash.

"Every time I look at it, I look at four people," said Tim Mead, the Angels' vice president of communications. "I recognize the living miracle of Jon Wilhite.

"I see the power of community. So many times, you think we're all devoid of collective passion and sensitivity. Collectively, strangers came together to build, develop and nurture that. That's a positive out of a very negative situation."

Leslie Murrill still has her ticket stub from the night Adenhart pitched. She stops by whenever she can, even now, perhaps "30 or 40" visits in all.

"To this day, I still have a hard time when I see it," Murrill said. "I don't know how you take down what people want to connect to."

In a few weeks, however, the Angels will do just that. The weather is turning poor. The new season is coming soon.

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