Angels ace Jered Weaver still carves Nick Adenhart's initials in the back of the mound with his finger before every game he pitches. Reliever Jason Bulger scrawls the same initials in his game caps so Adenhart "is always on the mound with me," the right-hander said.
Saturday marked the second anniversary of the Fullerton automobile crash that killed Adenhart, the Angels' promising 22-year-old pitcher, and friends Henry Pearson, 25, and Courtney Stewart, 20.
Andrew Thomas Gallo, the 23-year-old whose blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit for driving at the time of the crash, was convicted of murder in September and sentenced to 51 years in prison.
Adenhart, who overcame major elbow surgery as a high school pitcher to reach the big leagues, was killed only hours after throwing six scoreless innings against the Oakland Athletics in Angel Stadium in his fourth major league start.
"We don't need an anniversary to reconnect with that pain — it's with us every day," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "We carry his memory forward with us."
The Angels did not publicly acknowledge the anniversary with a moment of silence before Saturday night's game against the Toronto Blue Jays, "but we've all reached out to the family," said Tim Mead, vice president of communications. "We do our own things internally."
Late Saturday afternoon, a wreath was placed on the brick mound near the stadium entrance in memory of Adenhart, Pearson and Stewart.
A fourth passenger in the car in which Adenhart was traveling, former Cal State Fullerton baseball player Jon Wilhite, suffered major injuries but survived the crash.
Catcher Bobby Wilson, who came up through the minor leagues with Adenhart and was among the pitcher's closest friends, said the memory of April 9, 2009, is still "fresh" in his mind.
The anniversary, Wilson said, "takes me back to that morning in Salt Lake City, when I was sitting in my house and got the call from Janet" Gigeous, Adenhart's mother.
"It stirs up all kinds of emotions," Wilson said. "Hopefully, there's more of an awareness of how many lives can be affected by drunk driving. Two years later, you see the effects.
"There are not a lot of positives. We lost Nick, Henry and Courtney, and at the same time, the Gallo family lost their son. There's not a lot of good that came out of it."
Several players said the passage of time has dulled the memories of the actual crash and brought the memories of Adenhart into sharper focus.
"You remember Nick throughout the whole year, not just today," reliever Kevin Jepsen said. "It's something that will never go away. But as time goes on, all the memories are of the good times you had together, the laughing and joking on the field."
Angels infielder Brandon Wood was good friends with Adenhart and Pearson, whom he met while Pearson was a student at Arizona State.
"After a year or so, you're not thinking so much about a crash and three tragic deaths," Wood said, "just the memories and good times you had with friends."