Friday, April 10, 2009

Two baseball cards

I remember the March day in 1993 when tragedy made me turn to my collection of baseball cards. I had hundreds of cards then, maybe thousands; a couple of years earlier, I'd even been given my first complete set as, I believe, an Easter present. It was a Donruss set that even included a "Rated Rookie" card of top prospect Mo Vaughn. I'd spent countless hours sorting through those cards, reading the notes on the back, trying to memorize the stats, organizing the cards into binder sheets by team.

On that March day, though, I went back into my binder and removed two cards and set them aside: This card and this card. And set aside they remained -- and remain, to this day. I have a little pile of cards in a drawer in my parents' house with Ken Griffey Jr. cards and Frank Thomas cards and Randy Johnson cards and Ivan Rodriguez cards and Mike Piazza cards and even an Edgar Martinez or two.

Steve Olin and Tim Crews, killed in a boating accident in Florida on March 22, 1993, remain in a place of honor atop that little pile.

I was not quite 10 years old then. It was my first baseball tragedy.

As countless others already have written, the death of a young athlete is a tragedy that hits home more than other tragedies do, more than they probably should. The death of a 22-year-old pitcher in California, after all, really shouldn't hit us any harder than the death of a 22-year-old college student or a 22-year-old soldier serving his country in Iraq.

But there's something about baseball, about sports that represents everything we cherish about youth, about potential, about life. We love athletes like Nick Adenhart because they can throw a low-90s fastball and a devastating changeup; we mourn people like Nick Adenhart because we know they have families, friends and people everywhere who feel empty without them.

"He was a privilege to be around. He grew as much in four years as anyone I've ever known," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "I can't tell you how proud I was of the great progress he made. He had arm surgery before throwing his first pitch in professional ball, so his family should be very proud."

Steve Olin was 27 when he died. Tim Crews was 31.

Olin was the Cleveland Indians' star closer; he'd saved 29 games in 1992 to go along with a 2.34 ERA. Crews was a newly signed free agent coming off a rough season in Los Angeles in which he'd compiled a 4.19 ERA in 78 innings pitched.

The numbers, though, really don't matter -- just like they don't really matter for Adenhart. All that matters was that they were people who brought a little happiness into the lives of thousands of other people.

Adenhart, in fact, had thrown six shutout innings on Wednesday night, striking out five. The Angles lost by a 6-4 score through no fault of Adenhart; when he left the game, he left with a 3-0 lead. More than 43,000 people were at Angel Stadium of Anaheim -- meaning Adenhart touched more than 43,000 lives (as well as countless more on television or even through fantasy baseball statistics) just hours before a drunk driver took him from us before dawn on Thursday.

Somewhere in that crowd, I'll bet there was a little kid who's not quite 10 years old who went home and threw a tennis ball against his bedroom wall because he wanted to pitch someday like the righty he'd just watched flummox the A's. Somewhere somewhere else, I'll bet there's a little kid who's not quite 10 years old who owns a couple of Nick Adenhart cards (maybe this one) and who pulled them aside to put them in a place of honor alongside his Evan Longorias and Dustin Pedroias and Tim Lincecums.

We'll all move on. We've dealt with death before. We'll be sad for a little while and we'll observe our moments of silence, and then we'll move on. We have to. We always do.

But some of those kids haven't had to deal with death before. Nick Adenhart hits closer to home than anything they've ever experienced.

I never forgot Tim Crews and Steve Olin.

Those kids will never forget Nick Adenhart.

1 comment:

floydiansea said...

Fantastic entry. Very true.