Remembering Nick Adenhart
Nick Adenhart will be remembered at a pair of memorial services in Maryland this week. A private one today will be attended by players and personnel from the Los Angeles Angels and a second one will be held Friday at Williamsport High. Since the time Adenhart was barely playing little league, no journalist has followed his career quite like Bob Parasiliti, the longtime sportswriter for The Herald-Mail in Hagerstown. Parasiliti has remembered Adenhart's life in the pages of the paper in the past week and agreed to answer some of our questions as well.
Question: What have you observed and heard around town in the past week? Is this like anything you've seen Hagerstown deal with before?
Parasiliti: It has been a weird, somber feeling around town. The emotions are even deeper in Williamsport, where Nick lived. On the day that Nick died, two other classmates of his lost their lives, too. It has been a real jolt of how fickle reality can be.
Nick’s death is a huge topic of conversation. There are a lot of people who have stories about seeing him play, his personality and his friendship. In a way, it’s like one of those situations you hear broadcasters talk about during a classic game. The line is “There are only 10,000 people here, but in years to come millions will say they attended this game.”
...The Hagerstown Suns had a moment of silence for Nick before their home opener on Monday. Usually you witness those moments and you see the fans nervously moving about because they are uncomfortable with the idea of someone dying. For Nick, everyone was still because it was still a shock.
... We had another well-known figure die a few weeks ago in former Smithsburg football coach Carroll Reid. He put Smithsburg football on the Maryland map by winning four Maryland Class 1A state football titles and he was much beloved and respected. There will be a public memorial service for him on Saturday and all indications are that it will be a huge event.
The thing that makes Nick’s death different, though, is that he was only 22 and he was on the verge of doing something special. This area isn’t like bigger cities, say like Baltimore. There aren’t a lot of schools with an abundance of standout athletes. I think the whole scenario has created this depth of mourning and memories.
Question: I'd spoken with folks -- friends, former coaches -- who said Nick was playing for more than himself; he was playing for the entire community. You'd similarly written last May that his success was the fulfillment of a dream shared by many. Do you think Nick realized that so many people from back home cared so much about what he was doing?
Parasiliti: I don’t think that idea was a conscious campaign in Nick’s drive. First and foremost, Nick was a competitor. He loved to do well and he loved to win.
But on the same token, he was a consummate teammate.
One story that I was told by Rod Steiner, the former Williamsport baseball coach, was about Nick’s desire to help the team.
Nick threw a no-hitter against Allegany during the 2003 Maryland Class 1A West quarterfinals, but lost 1-0 to Aaron Laffey, who is now with the Cleveland Indians organization. After that game, Nick thought he let the team down because he didn’t win. That haunted yet motivated him. He came out to start the senior season and mowed down Allegany 9-1 in the opener in Cumberland, throwing a one-hitter.
Even after Nick injured his elbow during his senior year, he played designated hitter for Williamsport and helped the Wildcats make it to the state finals. He didn’t want to let down the team because he was injured.
I think Nick knew a number of people were pulling for him, but I don’t think he would let himself realize how many.
Question: How did you get the news that Nick had been involved in an accident, and do you recall what your reaction was?
Parasiliti: To be honest, I was sleeping. Since we are a morning paper, I didn’t get out of the office from the night before until earlier that morning.
The phone rang at 9:40 a.m. Bob Fleenor, who now updates our Web site and is a former sports editor, called to tell me that “there is a rumor circulating around town that has become viral. They are saying Nick Adenhart is dead.”
He filled me in and asked me if I knew anyone who could confirm it for us. I had Nick’s cell phone number and numbers for his father and a few others. I told them that I would be in the office in 15 minutes.
To be honest, it didn’t hit me right away. Part of it was because it was still a rumor. The other part of me fell into reporter mode. I was trying to figure out what to do and where to go. In my mind, I was going to show that it was a hoax.
I think the reason for my first reaction was because when I did all the coverage of Nick last year and covered his first stint with the Angels, I got e-mails telling me that I was overdoing it because there were other county players who were playing pro ball. I was ignoring them to give Nick so much ink. After I wrote the column you mentioned at the end of your column last weekend, I was told “I had a man-crush” on Nick. I just thought the rumor was a cruel joke.
After I got into the office, we looked for confirmation. The process was gradual. It went from being an accident in Fullerton, Calif., to an accident with a person of interest, to an accident that included an athlete, possibly an Angel, to it being Nick Adenhart.
Then it was time to start scrambling to cover the story. Like I said, I was in reporter mode, but a number of colleagues came over to ask me if I was OK. They all knew that I had the strong working relationship with Nick.
I finished my work and left the office on Friday morning, and then it all struck me as I was driving home and I heard the song I Will Remember You on my radio. I realized what had happened and I started thinking. It really didn’t bowl me over until I was out for dinner on Friday night with my girlfriend and we started talking about it. She started crying about the circumstances of it all, and it got me going.
That is when I realized everything, and that’s when I sat down and wrote my column that appeared in last Sunday’s paper. I did a little rambling, but my boss, sports editor Mark Keller, reeled me in a little and helped me out immensely to make it a strong story.
Question: When did you start covering Nick and when did you realize that baseball would be taking him places?
Parasiliti: The first instance I remember covering Nick was in the 1999 Maryland State Little League tournament in Arbutus.
He really made his impression the next year when he was a part of Hagerstown All-Stars, who played in the PONY League World Series in Washington, Pa. He was a year younger than most of the players, but he was dominating as a pitcher.
Even at a young age, he had the focus to compete and he had the very precise mechanics that he carried all the way through his pitching career. Those were the attributes that gave everyone the impression he was going places. ... I can’t put a date or time on when I thought Nick would be a major league pitcher. It was just that he made pitching look easy his entire youth career.
Question: You've been writing about Nick for nearly half his life. What did you think of news coverage the past week? Was anything off the mark, or do you think the Nick who was portrayed nationally was the same one you've known for years?
Parasiliti: The thing that struck me was the media was at a loss for words in a way. Nick was an unknown subject. He was young. He had limited exposure on the national level, but he had accomplishments that could be used as starting points.
The chase was on to find people on the other side of the country to put an identity on Nick and who he was and how he got to where he was. The Herald-Mail and I fielded calls from some outlets looking for quotes and leads of where to go. In turn, we were looking to them for help on getting the whole story of what happened out there.
Of what I read, the coverage hit many of the major people who helped in his life and his development. It was tough to talk to his father, even though he was out in L.A. to watch Nick pitch. He may have told them some things, but I know he struggled with the whole situation.
A lot of the national media interviewed most of the same people I talked to, so the stories covering Nick, the person, pretty closely showed the kid I knew.
Question: We heard many times that Nick was a down-to-Earth kid who just happened to have amazing control of a baseball. How did Nick treat you?
Parasiliti: When I talked to Nick, he was helpfully guarded, for lack of better terms. He didn’t like to be singled out because he was a good pitcher. He was uncomfortable with being a story off the field. He was sort of a humble kid who wanted to be like everyone else when he didn’t hold a baseball. ... With me, Nick was fine. First was the difficult part -- that was getting time with him.
Nick wasn’t always timely in returning calls. There were times I needed to go through other avenues to get him. Once I got him, it was different.
This probably sounds arrogant on my part, but he was pretty open with me. He felt comfortable talking with me because he didn’t feel like he was being interviewed. When we saw each other outside of the sporting arena -- like on the street, in a store or at a game he might be watching -- we could talk like causal friends.
... Ironically, I left a message on his phone on April 3 to talk about making the Angels and his impending first start. He never got back to me.
Question: You recently wrote that you had a photograph of him on your desk at work. What's the backstory to the photo, and did you find yourself looking at it these past few days?
Parasiliti: The photo is from the 2000 PONY League World Series and it was kind of a prank pulled on me. Like I mentioned earlier, I was sent to Washington, Pa., to cover the Hagerstown team in the eight-team tournament. ...
I became friends with the guys who were in the press box while I was covering the tournament. We were the only paper outside of their area covering the event. So we sat and were cutting up and talking.
One of those guys took game photos from the box. ... After the game, I went down to do interviews for one of my stories and I was talking to Nick. The guy snapped a photo of the interview.
The photo was e-mailed to the office, as a joke, to “show my bosses that I was actually there working instead of just hanging out at the bars and buffets.” The guys on my staff printed it out and had it on my desk when I came back with a bunch of jokes and ribbing. I don’t know why, but I kept it. ...
It stayed on my desk for all these years and it became a bit of a conversation piece, especially after Nick started to make his climb.
I remember looking at it after it was confirmed that Nick had died and I know I have glanced at it a few times since then. I can’t tell you the thought process in it, but I just remember it is up there.
Question: When Nick was pitching, what was the atmosphere like? How big were the crowds? Did you always notice his parents?
Parasiliti: The older I get, it seems like there are fewer people attending high school sporting events. Yet when Nick was pitching, it was an event all of its own. People turned out. He had his posse of friends, and there were others who would just stumble in to catch a glimpse of Nick on the mound.
As time went by, the crowds got bigger. There were more and more scouts showing up. I remember when Williamsport played South Hagerstown, I think I counted 23 pro scouts and a national cross-checker at the game. ...
The crowds grew with each game. Nick’s mom, Janet, sat in the stands and tried to be invisible and his father, Jim, was in the background. I didn’t know either of them well at the time. Nick’s stepfather, Duane Gigeous, was more of the point man, along with Steiner, in guiding Nick through the scouting process. ...
Steiner said the other day that it used to be 20 to 30 people at most Williamsport games until Nick showed up. After that, there were thousands (it might be a little exaggerated).
Question: Nick ran into some trouble at the end of his senior year, just before the draft. What did you see in him then, and did you always think he would rebound?
Parasiliti: This may sound a little naive, but I didn’t think about his ability to come back then. His arm came up injured after that South Hagerstown game. At the time, it was a slight tear and the decision was made to shut him down for the rest of the season as a pitcher. No one wanted to jeopardize his future for a couple of high school games.
It came at the worst time. Many knew of Nick’s talent by then. They were trying to figure out exactly where he would be drafted. ... Nick quietly hoped that if he wasn’t the first or second pick, he would have liked to be taken sixth by the Orioles.
But when he injured his elbow, Nick’s air of invincibility kind of disappeared.
... Then, in the 14th round, the Angels took a chance on him. The team treated Nick like a first-round pick, giving him a bonus. ... With that, it seemed like Nick was sure he had a second chance at his dream.
Question: Since he embarked on his professional career, was Nick seen around town much? And were you able to share his rise to the big leagues with your readers?
Parasiliti: From my perspective, there were sightings, but nothing really announced. It wasn’t a case of “Hey, Nick’s coming to town. Make sure you see him.”
That was part of his private side. He’d show up in town to see friends and family. The family dynamic changed some after he graduated because his mom moved to Chicago, but his grandparents were still in the Hagerstown area.
... This past offseason, I heard he was living in Fells Point and working an offseason job while working with a (former?) Orioles trainer. He was trying to strengthen his core muscles to be stronger for the season. After his death, someone I knew said they saw him in town before he left for spring training. He was hanging out with school friends at a place I hang out at, but I was working that day and didn’t get to see him.
But that was Nick. He came in unannounced and didn’t cause a scene. The owner didn’t even know he had a big baseball prospect in his establishment.
Question: You've got more than a couple of years under your belt as a reporter, and I'm guessing you've previously dealt with a source dying or the untimely passing of someone you cover. Is it difficult to attend the funeral services as an unbiased journalist? Or is it just as important to show up as a concerned community member and pay your respects?
Parasiliti: To be honest, it is a battle of emotions and of mind and body.
In the last 2 1/2 years, this is the third time I have had to experience this. Since I’m not from the area originally, all three are people I met through my profession and we just became friends.
One was a local broadcaster that I did a little radio with and we played golf. He was like a dad to me. The other was the former general manager of the Hagerstown Suns, who I was still friends with after he left the position. ...
On all three of these occasions, I have written the memorial column right after they passed. It is a strange feeling, but all three columns were as therapeutic as they were tributes. I received huge amounts of e-mails and have had people stop me to tell me that I was able to say what they were thinking.
In a way, I guess that is part of our jobs as journalists. We all say we are out to make people think, to paint a picture, to cause emotion and to inform. We all think we are trying to make a difference. And if that makes it so people read us, well, that means we keep our jobs.
... On each occasion, people attending the service -- most of them were people I knew -- stopped me as I was entering the service. They recognized me from my column logo and wanted to thank me or tell me I did a good job on that story.
Again, that worries me. I wonder if I became part of the story because of this. I want to just blend in and pay my respects. On those occasions, I didn’t have my pad and pen to write down anything. I was off duty.
In my mind, after I do the reporting and write the column, I try to convince myself that my part of the process is done. It’s like I said earlier, when I’m working, I’m in reporter mode. When I go to the service, I’m in friend mode. I find over the years because I’ve been taught to try to be as unbiased as possible, I have lost my edge emotionally. I don’t cheer for the home teams and I try to keep my senses and powers of observation about me. I consider myself as a big-picture guy.
But with that being said, I think all reporters are forced to straddle that line. We all want to be fair and equal in our reporting, but our emotions and frame of references are part of who we are and what we write and how we write it. Some call that personality.
So, to finally sum that up, I guess the answer is that there is a time and place for everything. There is a time to be the unbiased reporter and there is time to be an emotional mourner/celebrator. It is up to each of us to keep it separate and to apply it when needed.
After all, if you think about it, that is the way Nick approached his life. He wanted to be the best on the field and one of the guys off of it -- and he seemed to do both pretty well.
Photos: Associated Press; Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun / courtesy of Bob Parasiliti