Opening night at Spring Mobile Ballpark got off to a somber start. Friday's series-opener between the Salt Lake Bees and Reno Aces was preceded by emotional tributes to Nick Adenhart.
The former Bees pitcher died Thursday morning from injuries suffered in an automobile collision in Fullerton, Calif., hours after he started and threw six shutout innings for Salt Lake's parent club, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The Bees, who went on to defeat the Aces 6-2, honored Adenhart with a short video on the scoreboard screen and a moment of silence before the first pitch.
"You saw a bunch of grown men that were pretty emotional taking the field," said shortstop Brandon Wood. "I'm glad they did it in honor of him. Obviously it's a great loss for our organization. We send our respects and best wishes to his family.
"It's been a rough couple of days," he added while noting that a mutual friend was also involved in the fatal accident. "It's been tough on us around here and it's been tough on my close buddies back home. But we try to do our best taking the field and honoring them. That's what they would want."
Bees manager Bobby Mitchell was impressed with how the team performed.
"The players showed me something today," he said.
Outfielder Brad Coon, who was Adenhart's best friend, hit a solo homer in the game.
"The tribute was the hardest thing," he said. "I broke down out there."
Coon is trying to stay positive and vows to keep Adenhart, who was a groomsman at his wedding last winter, in his thoughts and keep his spirit alive. He'll be a pallbearer at the upcoming funeral.
"I'll do anything for them," Coon said was expressing his concern for Adenhart's family.
Coon spoke with Adenhart on Thursday morning and said "he was ready to go."
Coon admits he gets goosebumps about Nick's conversation with his father that "something special was going to happen" on Thursday.
Adenhart went on to pitch well and "went out on top," he added.
Even so, it wasn't easy to take the field after his death.
"It's hard," said Coon. "(But) he wouldn't want anyone to sulk or feel bad. He loved this game."
Besides the video tribute and moment of silence, the Bees painted Adenhart's Salt Lake uniform No. "32" on the field in front of the team's dugout and Bees players and coaches sported a patch with his number on their jerseys, something they'll do for the remainder of the season — home and away.
The American flag on the outfield berm flew at half-mast as Salt Lake and Reno opened Pacific Coast League play a day later than expected. In the wake of Adenhart's death, Thursday's originally scheduled opener was postponed.
"We needed yesterday to mourn and cope with what just happened," said Wood. "I think everybody was in shock."
Bees general manager Marc Amicone said it was the right thing to do and a respectful way to handle the situation.
Getting back on the field, he added, wasn't easy.
"I think it was really hard," explained Amicone, who noted it was evident as the players watched the video, observed the moment of silence and got ready to take the field. "I think as they started playing their minds got a little bit more on baseball and maybe it'll be therapeutic for them."
The grieving process has no timetable. Amicone acknowledged that the 22-year-old Adenhart's death has affected players with the Angels and Bees, as well as former teammates at the organization's Double-A affiliate in Arkansas.
"At that age you sometimes feel invincible and you just don't see those things happen," said Amicone. "... It's pretty sobering for the players that are that age and young."
The Angels, he added, have handled the situation well. They've lived up to their reputation of getting good players and showing they care about them.
"I'm proud that we're partners with the Angels," said Amicone, who has been in regular contact with L.A. general manager Tony Reagins since the tragedy unfolded.
The PCL, Minor League Baseball and Reno officials have also been understanding.
"In sports — and I think especially in the baseball world — they all feel like they're brothers and family," said Amicone. "And we all want to help each other out. We've really been treated well the last day or so."
At the big league level, where the Angels also opted to postpone their game on Thursday, manager Mike Scioscia addressed the difficult situation.
"It's a tragedy that will never be forgotten," he said in a story on the team's Web site. "We'll move forward with it the best that we can."
Mitchell had similar thoughts. Salt Lake's pregame ceremonies honoring Adenhart had quite an emotional impact.
"I think that tribute was unbelievable," said Mitchell. "It was hard, hard to see Nick up there talking. He'll be remembered forever."
The Bees' chaplain is planning a memorial service at a church near the stadium after Sunday's game. Details are expected to be released today.
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