April 2009

Chills and fever

That pretty much describes what I was feeling this afternoon. I was having lunch, and all of a sudden I got light-headed and felt sick to my stomach. I was sweating, feeling like I was going to pass out.

I’m still not sure what it is — maybe a virus of some kind, maybe food poisoning from something I ate the night before. I know I was dehydrated, and that’s never a good thing.

I’m going to be the designated hitter tonight. We’ve got a lot of good outfielders on this team, and Gary Matthews Jr. is one of the best center fielders. I’m drinking a lot of water, trying to get better. This is just weird, man, having something like that just hit you out of the blue.

We’re going through some rough times right now, and I neeed to be there for my team. You’re not always going to be 100 percent. Over the long season, there are going to be nights when you’re not feeling good, not feeling strong, but you gut it out and do the best you can. I’ve always had that football mentality, going back to high school. I love to compete. When those lights come on . . .  it’s like Friday Night Lights. You feel like going out there and competing, making something happen.

I’m sure a lot of fans are worried about us, how we’ve been playing, how we’ve been trying to cope with the loss of Nick Adenhart. All I can ask is that everybody has some patience and understanding. Sure, we’re professionals, well-paid professionals, but we’re also human beings — and this hit everybody in this clubhouse like a thunderbolt. Until you’ve gone through something like that, I don’t see how you can understand what it’s like.

There have been moments since it happened that you feel like you’re in a dream state. Everything just feels unreal. It’s a terrible tragedy for Nick’s family, to lose someone like that, so young and talented, such a great kid. How can it not hit his teammates like a ton of bricks?

We just have to go through it, take it day by day. Time does heal. We’ll get better. We’ll get back to being what we are: a championship-caliber team loaded with high-character guys. We’re good. We’ll show it. Please, just try to be patient and give us some time to get through this.  

Nick: Always and Forever

It’s not easy, but we’re moving on, moving forward, because that’s what we do. We’re professional athletes. We’ll go about our business and play quality, exciting baseball for you fans. But no one will walk into our clubhouse this year without thinking about Nick Adenhart. He’ll always be with us, this year and forever.

We all have our own ways of grieving and coping, of dealing with a tragedy like this. You’ve got to live your life and treat people the way you want to be treated. It starts right there. Do what you can to help others. Don’t always be so concerned about yourself. Think about making others around you comfortable and happy, and that will affect you in a positive way.

You never know when God calls you to come home. We’re a family here, and when He called Nick, it was like losing a brother. It hurts. One of the first things I did was call all my family members and tell them I love them. Every time I leave the house, I tell my wife and kids I love them. It’s something we all should do every chance we get. Talk to your kids, your brothers and sisters, tell them how you feel. You never know when something like that, what happened to Nick, might happen to you.

When you’re on a team like this, you spend more time with your teammates than you do your own family. So you become close, and naturally it hits everybody hard. Nick was just a kid, really, but he was a popular kid, a great kid. He was on his way to great accomplishments in this game. He wasn’t here long, but he did get to live out his dream to play in the big leagues – and shut out the Oakland A’s for six innings. That was the kind of performance that showed what was ahead of him. He pitched with his head and his heart. He had a gift and knew what to do with it.

Nick struck out guys he’d been watching since he was in junior high school. He was living out his dream. I kept pumping him up between innings, and I’ll never forget that look he had, that determination. When he came off the field after that last inning, when he put them away in order in the sixth, I could feel him, what it meant to him.

I left the stadium around 11:30. It just so happened Nick’s dad was here. It must be incredibly hard on his family right now, but at least his dad was able to see him, and Nick was able to tell his dad he loved him. Nick dropped him off at his hotel and went out with some friends, and they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He did nothing wrong. It could have happened to any of us.

That’s why I encourage everyone to look your loved ones in the eyes and tell them how you feel, how you love and appreciate them. And when I called my brothers the next day and told them I loved them, I also told them to please never drink and drive. That has to stop. No more drinking and driving. Period. We have to be more respectful to each other.
 
Those of us who make good livings playing a game know how fortunate we are. Not everyone can make it to the big leagues, obviously. But you can take something from Nick and his life, how he went after what he wanted, how he pushed through some adversity last year and kept believing in himself.

He was a tremendous young man, kind of quiet but funny in his way with his easy manner and style. He had a great work ethic and amazing talent. He loved his family. Those are some of the things we should remember when we think about Nick. He was one of us, a baseball player, a competitor, and we’re carrying on in his spirit and memory. It’s the best way we can honor him.

That’s what Nick would want us to do. I know he’ll be watching us, pulling for us, an eternal Angel. We’ll never stop thinking about Nick Adenhart, keeping him in our hearts and minds for the rest of our careers and our lives. A guy like that never really goes away. He’s always a part of you.

 

 

 

 

Paying respect to Mr. Henry Aaron

Indirectly, I probably owe my baseball career to Henry Aaron, whose great feat of breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record we honor on today’s 35th anniversary of No. 715 in Atlanta. I wasn’t born yet when it happened, but I learned all about it from my granddaddy, George Cobbs. He loved Hank Aaron. It was all I heard about when I was little — Hank Aaron this, Hank Aaron that. All the time.

My granddad played ball in Arkansas and traveled around the area, to Louisiana, Missouri, all through that area of the country, playing ball. He loved the game, and it was a huge part of our heritage. He taught me how to throw a baseball, how to hit, catch, everything. My granddad had a lot to do with me becoming a baseball player, and a lot of that had to do with Hank Aaron, who was such an influence on him.

It’s a special day. We all should celebrate this, whether you’re black, white, Hispanic, Asian, whatever. It doesn’t matter. Hank Aaron was a great man, not only to break the biggest record in the history of sports — not just baseball, but all of sports — but because of the way he handled himself while he was doing it. His dignity and strength in going through what he did, those are the things that distinguish him and make him an American hero.

He didn’t talk about it at the time, but we learned later — and I learned from my family — about all the threats and all the things that he had to endure while he was going for the record. That kind of courage is what we should celebrate as Americans. When I go to schools to talk to kids and find out that they don’t even know who Aaron is, that really disappoints me. It hurts. He showed us all how to handle adversity with pride and character.

Hank Aaron deserves a place of honor in our history. I don’t know many, if any, players today who could have gone through what he did with such class and integrity.

I was fortunate to meet him once. It was at the All-Star Game in 2002 in Milwaukee. I shook his hand and told him what an honor it was to meet him. We didn’t get a chance to have a real conversation, but he wished me the best, and I had that moment. When you shake the hand of a man like that, a true legend, it’s something that sticks with you. I’ll never forget that.

He was one of the greatest of all time, and a true gentleman. I know Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier and deserves all the credit in the world for that, but I really wish more kids knew who Hank Aaron is and what he means to so many people. He was a pioneer, like Jackie Robinson, paving the way for all the rest of us who came along behind him.

Here’s to Hank. You’re the man, Hammer.   

 

 

Nothing like Opening Day

This is my 11th Opening Day, and that’s really hard to believe. I can still remember my first one, in 1999. I was a nervous wreck that day. I still get butterflies on Opening Day, but it’ll be nothing like that first one. I spent most of my pre-game in the restroom. My stomach was driving me crazy. I had been called up in ’98 and played six games, but this was my first Opening Day — and every player remembers that feeling the first time.

Butterlies are normal. I think every player feels a little anxiety on Opening Day. I remember Paul Molitor, who played for 21 seasons, telling me he always got butterflies on Opening Day. You’re anxious to get started, to get it going. You want to get off to a great start. After tha first at-bat, the nerves go away and you just settle in and play the game. Your instincts take over.

That first Opening Day with the Twins, I got a hit, scored a run and got an RBI. We beat Toronto, 6-1. Pat Hentgen was pitching for them. I just remember how great it felt to be on the field with a Major League team. I was leading off and playing center field, 23 years old. I remember the announcer saying, “Leading off and playing center field, No. 48, Torii Hunter.” It’s still fresh in my mind, how that sounded. And how nervous I was.

Opening Day last year was something I wouldn’t wish on anybody. We were back in Minnesota, where I’d grown up as a player and a person, where I learned the game. I was surrounded by all these people I knew and loved, and I was wearing another uniform. It was a very strange experience. There was so much going on emotionally, it was very difficult for me to play that day.

I didn’t have a good day, I remember that. We lost, and I didn’t get a hit. I finally settled down during the series and got some hits, got some things done. We won three games. I was just relieved when it was over. I got standing ovations from the fans, which was great, and they presented me my Gold Glove. But I felt strange the whole time. I wonder if that’s ever happened before, a guy playing all those years in one place and then opening his first season in another uniform in that same stadium where he grew up.

Coming to Angel Stadium for the first time, playing in front of my new home crowd in my new home, that was totally different. I loved everything about that. I had some great moments right off the bat, hitting a walk-off grand slam, making some catches. I remember getting hit in my car on the way to one of the games, too.

I’m really happy with where our team is, the chemistry we have on the field and in the clubhouse. I want to get it going, have a great year. Once I have that first at-bat out of the way, and get rid of the butterflies, it’s on. I can’t wait.    

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