Angels players bring Nick Adenhart to the celebration as if he were there -- beer included
After the Angels had clinched their third straight American League West title, before the doors to their clubhouse were pulled open to admit hordes of reporters and photographers, Manager Mike Scioscia spoke to his players about the one man who wasn’t there and should have been.
This triumph, he said, belongs as much to them as it does to pitcher Nick Adenhart, who was killed in a car crash in April. Not that they were likely to forget that: they see his jersey in his locker every day and carry it to the dugout so that he is never far from their minds or hearts.
He had been with them all year and would continue to be with them however we chose to honor him, Scioscia said.
They honored him in a way that was beautiful and in a way that caused some second thoughts.
After they had celebrated in the clubhouse they ran back onto the field en masse, soggy and disheveled, taking a direct path to center field to lovingly pat the patch with Adenhart’s picture and uniform No. 34 that has been affixed to the wall of Angel Stadium. It was spontaneous and heartfelt, a poignant moment for the thousands of fans who remained in the stands and were lucky enough to see it.
But those same players also doused Adenhart’s jersey with beer on the field and in the clubhouse, a debatable choice given that the driver of the car that hit the vehicle in which Adenhart and three friends were riding allegedly was drunk at the time of the accident.
The soaking might be considered thoughtless. Inappropriate because of the way he died.
Not by the Angels. They saw it as a gesture of remembrance and inclusion, a way to keep Adenhart’s memory alive during a sports ritual they wish he could have shared.
Tim Mead, the club’s longtime vice president of communications, heard the words Scioscia spoke after Monday’s game. Like the players, Mead was riveted by the power those words evoked.
“Nick Adenhart would have been part of this celebration tonight and there was every reason to make him part of that celebration,” Mead said. “And that was players’ gesture to Nick, as it was running out to center field. Reminding that we remember.
“If this ballpark had been empty and nobody and seen it they would have run out to that patch tonight.”
And if Adenhart had been there his jersey would have been doused with him in it, like everyone else’s was doused in beer and champagne in the clubhouse.
Mead said he could see how an outsider might cringe at the sight of beer being poured over the jersey of a player whose life was taken by an allegedly drunk driver. But to the Angels it was a gesture of camaraderie, not disrespect.
The presence of beer and champagne in clubhouses is worthy of discussion. The NFL bans the use of alcohol in its locker rooms, and it’s an idea worth Major League Baseball’s serious consideration.
But on Monday, the Angels paid tribute to Adenhart in a way they believed he would have enjoyed. They knew him best. They have done nothing but honor him and did so in their own way on Monday, even if those outside the clubhouse or the culture might not understand it.
-- Helene Elliott
Photo: Angels players douse the jersey of Nick Adenhart in champagne and beer after clinching the AL West title on Monday. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images