Just hours after making his first start of the season, Angels RHP Nick Adenhart died early this morning in a car accident when a minivan ran a red light and struck his car, causing it to hit a light pole. Adenhart and two other passengers died; TMZ.com reports that another passenger was also a player in the Angels' organization. The driver of the minivan was apprehended and is being charged with felony hit-and-run.
This, of course, is terrible news. We were shocked and saddened to hear it, and we have only the most tenuous of connections to Adenhart and the Angels: we kinda like them. We can hardly imagine what the pain must be like for Adenhart's family, his friends on the team, and the family of the other passengers...and we don't really want to. Because for us - and, we suspect, most people -sports are a diversion. Sports are where you're supposed to be able to go to get away from real world concerns. Everything that happens in sports is black and white; your team won or they lost. Your favorite player played well, or he didn't. You get to celebrate that championship, or you don't. Everything in sports is so simple. They play the games, we watch.
Then...this. Baseball, for us, is a rock to which we can cling when times are turbulent. Stark reminders that it is not, in fact, an entity unto itself, that it is composed of human beings the same way our lives are, make us really see what it is that we've been watching. So, yes, as we've all been told time and time again, it's just a game. Does that mean you should appreciate it any less, though? Absolutely not - if anything, appreciate it more. Appreciate that you can look at something as ultimately trivial as baseball and find meaning in it. Appreciate that you can wear your team's hat and immediately feel like a member of a brotherhood. More than anything, just appreciate the game.
Today, there'll be a well-deserved moment of silence before each first pitch. People will briefly contemplate the sadness of what happened, sportswriters will take the opportunity to soliloquize about how this reminds us of what's really important in life, the Angels will probably hang his jersey in their locker room and wear a black NA 34 patch this season...but ultimately, the game will continue on. They're still going to play out the season, and we're still going to watch and cheer.
And as crass as that may seem, we think it's one of the best reasons to love baseball. Baseball is there for us. That first breathtaking view of fresh-cut, emerald-green grass, pearl-white bases shining on a backdrop of newly-dragged dirt...it is a constant. The sound of cleats on concrete, the crack of the bat, the pop of the mitt, the wild cheers or saturnine groans echoing from all corners of the stadium after a monstrous home run...these are always with us.
The players, though, are human, save for the transcendent few who live on through the game. Adenhart's death is a saddening reminder of that. But what they provide is something greater than themselves, something people have been able to enjoy, something in which they can immerse themselves, for over a hundred years. Yes, the death of players can force us to put into perspective this game of ours that we love so much, but it can make us appreciate it all the more for the fact that despite tragedy, it continues on. Baseball fandom, as in all sports, is about finding a community and an outlet from real life, so tragedy there hurts almost as much as tragedy in our homes. But at least in baseball, the pain can be assuaged by the rhythm of 3 outs, 9 innings, and 162 games. And that's just one more reason to love the game, not to mourn it.