Way back in the day – before the era of television, the Internet, blogs, Twitter and our overly connected culture – kids collected baseball cards to find out about players. Baseball fans would read these obscure and smelly things we called newspapers or listen to fuzzy radio broadcasts to learn about baseball players and follow their careers. In some ways, it was easier back then. Players stayed with teams longer and baseball – though it was a business – was not yet BIG business.
Boys and men alike would dream that they could do the things that their more talented counterparts could. They lived vicariously through their favorite players by taking a liking to those in which they saw parts of themselves. Together, the players and fans bonded to share mutual dreams as one lived it and the others lived it through those players.
Fast forward to our current culture where fans are constantly connected and sometimes know more about players than the players do. One of the great joys I get is in following the careers of players I “root” for and cheer onto success. I take a bit a pride in their accomplishments because I feel like I get to share in their achievements.
In most instances, the players I follow have Fort Wayne or Northeast Indiana ties. That’s a connection that is real – to me at least. It’s one of the reasons I have such a passion for chronicling the history of our local arena. While the players are living the dream (or have lived it), I’m living through them by recreating the events – the games, the plays, the stories – and hopefully I’m preserving it for others to live and learn from. Whether it’s true or not, I hope I am able to provide others with an opportunity to connect with those individuals when they might not have otherwise been able to do so.
This sort of connection also explains the magnificent appeal of fantasy baseball. It’s an opportunity for fans to prove they can be “better general managers” or owners.
But, when it comes to fantasy baseball, I probably lose because I don’t do it right most of the time. I always have some players that I like to follow for similar reasons I mention above. They don’t always have local ties. But they almost always have a great story and give me a reason to root for them.
Nick Adenhart was one of the lucky few who lived his dream first-hand. He was diligent in his work ethic to prove others wrong and fulfill a promise that several onlookers doubted was still in existence.
This year, I nabbed Adenhart in the 27th round of my keeper fantasy league draft! Because it’s relevant, I have to tell you that the league is an American League only league. By the 27th round, there are very few quality players available. As you can imagine, I was pretty sure I got the steal of the draft. With Nick Adenhart’s first start of the 2009 season, he had proven that he was more than on the cusp of reaching the potential that many observers had considered gone.
As he experienced the joy of his outstanding 2009 season debut, a part of me took pride. I had been following his career for a few years and had rooted for him because he was a character individual who was overcoming some great challenges. I guess I have always rooted for the person who doesn’t have an easy path – did the same thing with Josh Hamilton.
At the same time, I relished the thought of having him on my fantasy roster for a decade or more since I got him so late. I was going to get a lot of wins, a lot of strikeouts and plenty of fantasy points.
But my fantasy points don’t mean dittily squat!
As anyone now knows, in the wake of the greatest professional performance of his career, a man (Andrew Thomas Gallo) of much lesser character chose to get behind the wheel of a minivan despite being far too inebriated to drive and despite not even having the legal right to be in that position because his license had been suspended.
I think again to Josh Hamilton, where in his autobiography, he details how people told him that he was depriving people of watching him play because of his addictions. Unfortunately, in this case, Gallo has deprived all of us the privilege of watching Nick Adenhart achieve his fullest potential.
The accident has reverberated in my mind since I first heard the news. There are many reasons. The most obvious is the fact that life is fragile and could end at any moment – whether by our own doing or by someone else’s. Second is the fact that Gallo was driving a mini-van. I wonder if he has kids and how many times he had gotten behind that wheel in the same state of cognitive dysfunction with them in the van. What if they had been inside when he disregarded the red light? As a parent, this thought makes you shiver and perhaps even evokes some form of rage.
The third, and perhaps the hardest to explain reason, is a fact that I’ve touched upon. A player I have been following and rooting for a few years can be followed no more. I’ll follow other players, but will never forget Nick Adenhart even though his full history is pretty much already written. There’s little for us to research and study. His body of work is so brief that he leaves a life that was largely unfinished. Rather, that life was taken from him.
I can’t imagine what is like to be his parents, his family, his friends, his teammates. Nick Adenhart will always be in their hearts. They will never forget the way he touched their lives and I have to imagine there is a little piece of each of their souls that will never be able to move on either.
In light of this tragedy, I think of Steve Olin and Tim Crews. Both were members of the Cleveland Indians organization back in 1993 when the boat they were in crashed into a pier. Both lost their lives that day. It was the first death of an active Major League player in decades.
I also think of Gerik Baxter, a former Fort Wayne Wizard. Baxter put together a solid season in Fort Wayne in 2000. At one point, he had pitched 30 consecutive scoreless innings. In 2001, he was on his way to Lake Elsinore as the #5 top rated prospect in the Padres’ organization to continue his rise through their system. Unfortunately, he never got there. He died after a tire in the truck he had been driving blew out and then veered into a car in the slow lane before rolling several times.
I wonder how their friends, family and teammates responded or reacted when they heard about the Nick Adenhart tragedy. The fact that I remember Olin and Crews as well as Baxter reminds me that there were people who knew and love those men, just as there were those who knew and love did Nick Adenhart. I was just one of the lucky folks who got to watch them and live through them as their careers blossomed.
So I write this as a personal letter of gratitude to those four men I mention – those four who unfortunately will never get to read it. I also write it to the men and women who have played the game – those who can read it – and allowed people like me to chase a small part of our own dreams with you.
No matter what anyone says, you’re still heroes in the eyes of many.