He was part of their team, so they wanted him to be part of their celebration.
But one day after the Angels doused Nick Adenhart’s No. 34 jersey with beer and champagne, players and coaches found themselves defending a gesture that some bloggers, columnists and fans criticized as insensitive considering that Adenhart was killed by an alleged drunk driver.
“We wanted to celebrate with him like he was here,” reliever Kevin Jepsen, whose locker is a few stalls away from Adenhart’s, said Tuesday. “If he was still here with us, we’d be pouring beer on him just like everybody else in here.
“It had nothing to do with the drunk-driving accident. We were just celebrating and wanted to make him a part of it.”
Said third baseman Chone Figgins: “He’s our teammate. We’re allowed to do what we want.”
Manager Mike Scioscia said the gesture was meant as nothing more than homage to the 22-year-old who was killed with two friends in April when their car was broadsided near Angel Stadium.
“You have to understand these players and the tribute, what it really means when you pour champagne on somebody,” Scioscia said. “That’s the tribute, not the fact that it was alcohol. It’s like getting a whipped-cream pie in the face after an interview. It’s part of the tribute. . . . I think it was very sincere, very real and I know it was meaningful to us.”
Pitching coach Mike Butcher said he sent a text message to Jim Adenhart, Nick’s father, during the celebration that ensued Monday night after the Angels clinched their fifth division title in six years. Butcher had not checked his phone by Tuesday evening to see if Jim Adenhart had responded.
“We’ve been keeping in contact the whole year,” Butcher said, “and I just wanted him to know their family is a big part of this.”
The Angels went through 210 bottles of champagne and 22 cases of beer during Monday’s celebration.
But not one drop of that wound up on the clubhouse carpet, said equipment manager Ken Higdon, who was careful to cover the floor with a layer of plastic sheeting before the party began.
“We didn’t do it until the eighth inning,” said Higdon, whose staff needed only a handful of outs to get the clubhouse ready, also putting plastic over the lockers to protect clothes and personal belongings. “All the guys worked their butts off.”
Higdon has cleaned up after six previous clubhouse celebrations during his 17 seasons with the Angels. And the carpet can present the biggest problem if the beer and champagne seep through.
“The ceiling was the only thing that got it,” he said.
Ervin Santana became the first pitcher to record a shutout on the day his team clinched a division title since Arizona’s Albie Lopez in October 2001. . . . Texas center fielder Marlon Byrd injured his right hip running to first base in the first inning and limped off the field. He was replaced by Craig Gentry.
Times staff writer Kevin Baxter contributed to this report.