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It took five years, but Adenhart regained his velocity, and he entered the 2009 season as the Angels' third starter. On April 8, in his season debut, he threw six scoreless innings against the A's. Back home in Maryland, an overflow crowd watched at the Buffalo Wild Wings in Hagerstown. Afterward, in the Anaheim clubhouse, Nick hugged his father, Jim, then headed out with three friends to celebrate. A couple of hours later, shortly after midnight in nearby Fullerton, a drunk driver in a minivan ran a red light and broadsided the Mitsubishi Eclipse in which Adenhart was traveling. Two of his friends were killed instantly; the third survived with serious injuries. Adenhart died two hours later at a local hospital. He was 22.
Warrenfeltz, by then a senior catcher at Maryland--Baltimore County, received the news when his cellphone woke him at 5:23 a.m. He'd stayed up late watching the game on TV and planned on calling Adenhart in the morning to congratulate him. Now Warrenfeltz was devastated. For eight hours he sobbed, inconsolable.
In Williamsport hundreds of people gathered at the high school field that day. Later 1,500 people showed up at Adenhart's memorial. A shrine was fashioned at the field, a framed Adenhart Angels jersey was hung in the Buffalo Wild Wings, and the Little League diamond in nearby Halfway, Md.—where Nick and David played growing up—was renamed Nicholas James Adenhart Memorial Field.
In the months that followed, Warrenfeltz was haunted by his friend's death. He wrestled with why this happened to Adenhart, not to him—why he was allowed to keep playing baseball when Nick couldn't. Even years later Warrenfeltz would be driving and suddenly have to pull over, tears blurring his vision. Maybe that helps explain why he returned home after finishing college, to make a life in the place his friends once dreamed of leaving. Why he became a coach.
When Warrenfeltz was hired to lead the Williamsport program in 2011, some of the locals grumbled—at 23, he wasn't much older than the players, and his only coaching experience was one season of jayvee. Heck, they said, Warrenfeltz even looks like one of the players: baby-faced, with short brown hair, freckles and an unimposing build. He didn't act like a player, though; during his first season Warrenfeltz remade the program, stressing discipline and structure. He posted a daily practice schedule broken into 10-minute intervals and drilled the team on fundamentals, from pickoffs to bunt defense to footwork on outfield throws. "Do the small things, and it'll lead to bigger things," he told the boys, sounding an awful lot like his father, Dave, a math teacher and former baseball coach at North Hagerstown High who valued ethics over flash, hard work over talent. The Wildcats, a sub-.500 team before Warrenfeltz, caught fire. They finished the 2011 season 17--5 and, behind Brendon's pitching, advanced all the way to the state semifinals.
Warrenfeltz rarely talked about Adenhart, but he didn't need to. The boys had watched Adenhart pitch, and when he died, they'd grieved too, if in a different way. Warrenfeltz had lost a friend; they'd lost a hero. So if their coach seemed stricter than he needed to be, they understood. Like at the beginning of the 2012 season, when Warrenfeltz suspended five of the team's best players, including Brendon, for being out late at a St. Patrick's Day house party that was broken up by police. It didn't matter that Brendon hadn't been drinking or that none of the players were arrested. To Warrenfeltz, it was about making good decisions.
Some parents, including Brendon's father, Chad, didn't like the suspensions. The boys would miss the games against Walkersville, a powerhouse, and rival North Hagerstown. The Wildcats had been moved up to Class 2A, making them the smallest school in the West region; they could ill afford to start 0--2. Yet they did, getting blown out in both games. From there it went downhill. Four key players got injured. Zach Lucas, the team's first baseman and best hitter, went into a slump. Even Brendon struggled, giving up six runs in three innings against Brunswick the day before the prom. Heading into the playoffs, the Wildcats were 9-9-1 and had lost their final three games by a combined score of 31--3. All the promise of the previous season—the trip to the state semis, the magical team chemistry—had dissipated. The players were frustrated and the parents angry.
Warrenfeltz might have tried to sweet-talk the critics, but that wasn't his style. Meticulous and stoic, he spent hours reflecting, Did I get the most out of practice today? Could I be reaching this player more effectively? How am I preparing these young men for the rest of their lives? Which is why, on the Friday of prom week, he'd gathered the boys in the locker room and urged them to be safe on Saturday night. "Have fun, but be careful," he said, "and don't do anything to jeopardize yourselves, the team or anyone around you. See you on Monday for the game."
But now here it was, 5:20 a.m. after prom night, and his phone was lighting up. Warrenfeltz didn't want to listen to the messages, wanted to freeze the moment before he heard the bad news. He called back the first number he saw. "It's Brendon," catcher Ryan Butts said when he picked up. "He's been in a car accident. I'm sorry, Coach."
Within 24 hours the police would reveal that Brendon had taken the curve too fast and lost control, sending the S-2000 careering into a tree head-on. Later, toxicology reports would confirm what Chad Colliflower had known from the start: Neither Brendon nor Sam had been drinking or under the influence of drugs.