ANAHEIM, Calif. -- You looked for meaning here Friday night as the heartbroken Los Angeles Angels stepped back onto the baseball field because there's got to be meaning in here somehow, somewhere, right?
"The night before last we got beat, we gave the game away, and you're pissed off," Angels owner Arte Moreno said. "And then this happens and you think, 'None of it matters.'
"Sometimes we get too serious about the game. It's just a game."
A few minutes earlier, during batting practice, Boston slugger David Ortiz told Moreno he wanted to meet Jim Adenhart, Nick's father. Ortiz had been watching television with his son when news of Adenhart's death came across, and from across the country, it hit Big Papi hard. Broke his heart, he told Moreno.
Commissioner Bud Selig phoned Moreno twice on Thursday, wanting to know how the Angels and Adenhart's family were doing. Several owners texted Moreno asking the same thing and informing him of their own plans for moments of silence.
"Everybody," Moreno said. "Everybody's touched by this. We're one family. Whether you're a writer or a player or a fan, we're all tied together."
We're all tied together.
You leave the ballpark late one evening in early April, and the new season and all of its promise stretches out in front of you like a big green pasture.
You return two days later, and it's like someone has fenced it off.
What possible sense is there to make of a man who blows through a red light at an intersection, ending three lives with a fourth hanging in the balance, a young man who is medically sedated at UC Irvine Medical Center ... and then tests nearly three times the legal limit for alcohol?
"It's one of the toughest things I've had to go through not only as a player, but as a person," Angels pitcher Joe Saunders said.
What possible meaning can you find while sorting through the wreckage of broken dreams and crushed hopes?
"He was one of the coolest, most unique people," Angels pitcher Dustin Moseley said. "He had style. He could do just about anybody's mannerisms or voices. ... It takes you out of the bubble that is baseball. To say, 'Wow, tomorrow could be my last day ... what kind of impact am I making?'"
Roughly 24 hours earlier, the broken Angels met privately in their clubhouse, manager Mike Scioscia addressing them and Jim Adenhart speaking as well.
"I haven't cried since I was 11, I don't think," Saunders said. "That's the first time I've cried since then. To see the sheer emotions on his dad's face.
"It tears your heart apart."
Said Moseley: "The things we were able to tell Mr. Adenhart, to give him a hug. I think, for a second, it brought Nick back. We're big boys, and giving him a hug, I'm sure it felt like he was giving Nick a hug."
We're all tied together, and that's the meaning when it seems there is none, and that's the sense when it seems there is none of that, either. There's a death in your neighbor's family, you bring over a casserole. A new family moves in next door, you bring over a plate of cookies. It's what we do. We pull each other through triumphs and we pull each other through tragedies.
When we're lost or uncertain, we come together.
Outside Angel Stadium, 30 minutes to game time, probably 400 people ringed the makeshift memorial on the brick pitcher's mound on the grand entrance to Angel Stadium. There were hundreds of bouquets. Signs. Dozens of balloons ("I'm sorry" read one). Easter lilies. Stuffed animals. Lighted memorial candles. Red Angels caps. Poems. A fielder's glove. Framed photos. Funeral wreaths.
Two men walked up wearing red T-shirts reading, "Angels never die, they go to heaven." A boy who looked to be of Little League age walked up and somberly dropped a medal it looked like he had won in some tournament onto the bricks. A woman quietly placed a bouquet of flowers.
"I lost a son before he reached 20, in a car accident," said the woman, an Angels season-ticket holder named Laura Sandoval, 60, of La Puente, Calif. "I know how the mother would feel. It's got to be real hard right now.
"It's all family. It's like a family, this organization."
|Jered Weaver and the Angels win on an emotional evening. (AP)|
"Our neighbors across the street are die-hard Angels fans, and I recently lost my mother," explained the woman, Marla Craig, 44, of Las Vegas. "I came here to mourn my personal family things and to see what actually happened here, and it's been extraordinary. I'm overwhelmed. There are no words right now for how I feel."
The memorial itself was extraordinary, fans streaming through the parking lot to pay their respects all day Thursday and Friday. What was so heart rendering 30 minutes before game time Friday was, when you walked out toward the stadium's entryway, you heard the normal pre-game buzz of fans hurrying by. And then you approached the memorial and it was like you had entered a cone of silence. Fans encircled the large area, and without even the restraint of a temporary barricade, they knew. They respectfully stood back five or six feet, giving those who wanted to approach plenty of space.
"Driving by, I saw it," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "I think, as important as it is for us to see that and feel it, it's there for the Adenhart family. I hope Jim and Janet have stopped by and taken a look. That speaks volumes for how people feel about their son."
Inside the stadium, the flags flew at half-mast. The Angels wore a black patch with "34" in white on the left side of their chest, above the heart. They'll wear that the rest of the year. They'll also leave Adenhart's locker as is in their clubhouse, uniform, glove, cleats inside, and they plan to set up a locker in his memory on the road as well.
There was an emotional moment of silence before the game following a video tribute, not only for Adenhart, but also for Courtney Stewart and Henry Pearson, the other two kids killed in the accident. As the Angels and Red Sox lined up on the base lines, outfielder Hunter and pitcher Lackey stood on the mound and held an "Adenhart 34" jersey.
"His parents asked us," Hunter said. "Janet was telling me everything Nick had said about me, telling her this spring that I had talked to him that day and how nice I was to him. I was like, 'Me?'
"You wish you could do better. ... It's amazing, the effect you can have on people. I didn't know the effect I had on him. That's why you treat people like you want to be treated. You don't know if they're going to be here tomorrow, or if you will be."
Adenhart's parents were in the stadium for the ceremony, though not on the field. And as the heavy-hearted Angels took the field to start the game, Hunter trotted all the way to the center field fence and tapped a banner picturing Adenhart pitching right on the heart.
"I don't think there are any words," Moreno said. "You bring these young kids in and they're family. You're committed to the kids, and then there's just a piece missing. It's always here. If you have kids, if you've ever lost anyone, it takes a piece with you.
"Yesterday it felt like I got punched in the heart."
We're all tied together, one thread running through our human condition. And yes, sometimes that thread is the same red thread that stitches together a baseball.
"I had to bury my dad," Moseley said. "I couldn't imagine burying my son."
You looked for meaning here Friday night, where the Angels won 6-3, and maybe you found a small bit of it in the smallest of places. Eye contact and a smile. A soft pat on the shoulder, or a hug. A stuffed animal in the heart-wrenching memorial out front.
The Angels made professional therapists available to their players but, Scioscia said, "I'll tell you what. The best grief counselor is your locker mate."
And, sometimes, your friends and neighbors. Because as much as we hate it, it takes a lot of tears to get through this life. And a lot of help.