Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Angels in the Outfield

Something very touching happened very late last night. While most of America had already crawled into bed, the Los Angeles Angels clinched the pennant. After six grueling months of a seemingly eternal-long regular season -- a length of time that just grinds players down & almost empties their souls -- those Angels laid claim to the best record in the AL West Division & the ticket to the playoffs that comes with it. It is an accomplishment that can only be celebrated one way: by pouring copious amounts of alcohol all over one another. It is a special time where hours & hours and days & days and months & months of hard work is satisfied in a moment of wild, unharnessed exuberance.

For the Angels, this season was especially soul-draining & trying, though. Because very early in the season -- in the very first week of the season in fact -- they lost one of their own. Nick Adenhart, a young promising pitcher, lost his life after his vehicle collided with another vehicle that was being steered by a drunk driver.

It was tragic.

The Angels were left to pick up the pieces. As is true whenever you experience loss in life, life goes on. It was really almost unfair for each of those team-mates of Nick Adenhart's. They still had a season to play. Grieving, they had to go out night after night & perform under the big lights. And that they did. Without wallowing in self-pity or making excuses for lethargy, they went out and did their job. And they won the pennant.

Respect THAT!

(I've gotta say, as a fan of the team that will have to face the Angels in the first round of the playoffs, I'm not excited about playing them. They're a stronger team because of what they faced. Stronger than other Angels teams that the Red Sox have whipped in playoffs past.)

And yet, despite going through arduous routine & having been focused on doing their job everyday, the Angels still remember their fallen brother. Along with releasing all the pent-up joy & happiness from their fantastic accomplishment, the Angels released some other emotions, too. They let the world know that it still hurts. They told their fans that, even in this fit of machismo & chest-bumping, it's okay to cry. The Angels just missed their friend. And so they paid tribute to him in one of the neatest ways sports has ever seen. Here are some of the images:

And then, after the traditional clubhouse celebration, the Angels took it back out to the field -- to the outfield -- where the Nick Adenhart tribute banner sat on the outfield wall all season just staring back at them. And they honored him there, too:

And here are video clips of the tributes:

From ESPN: the so-called "Highlight of the Night"

From MLB.com: The Angels in the outfield

That had to be so wonderful for those Angels players. As an outside observer, there's a strong sense in which it looked like they felt that they shared one last moment with their buddy, Nick. Not that it's all about me here, but I know the feeling in my own life of accomplishing something and thinking how great it would be if I could call Mom & share that moment with her. Sometimes it's crushing when I realize I can't.

So that's why it was so touching to see those players have that moment:

• to empty the cans of beer on that empty jersey as if they were actually piling on their team-mate in real life...
• to run out to right-centerfield to be with Nick as if he were actually there...
• to lift a can in honor to him as if he were there actually appreciating the tribute...
• to take a team photo as if having Nick's image in the back-drop finally actually made things feel complete again.

What a rich moment that must have been. And what a loving act for those Angels to make to their fallen brother, and to his family. And, really, to every family everywhere that's ever lost a member. I'm not gonna forget these Angels in the outfield. How special are they.

There have been some under-the-radar special moments in baseball in the last couple of years. Josh Hamilton destroying his demons in Old Yankee Stadium last July in the Homerun Derby. With each swing of the bat, it seemed like he was slaying yet one more demon after another. Jon Lester throwing a no-hitter after having beat cancer. The more fireballs he threw, the stronger he made us all feel against the powers that threaten to destroy our lives. And now we have the Angels winning the pennant & paying tribute to Nick Adenhart. Reminding us that even when we lose a big part of us, we still have one another. I just wanna break out in praise over God giving us these moments to enjoy.

1 comment:

Lloyd said...

I enjoyed reading this one, III. Even a sports-ignorant guy like me can appreciate what you've written here.

The grief of loss is something so universal... makes me very glad to have a hope in the resurrection.