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Napoli recalls Adenhart as pitcher, friend

Napoli reflects on Adenhart

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SEATTLE -- Mike Napoli caught Nick Adenhart's final game. Nobody is closer to a pitcher than his receiver, and Napoli was right there with Adenhart, sharing every emotion.

There were six scoreless innings against the Oakland Athletics by the 22-year-old right-hander making his fourth Major League start that April 8 night at Angel Stadium, and the performance ended with an artist's flourish: a perfect sixth inning, each pitch thrown by Adenhart a strike.

Napoli was met in the dugout after that inning by pitching coach Mike Butcher, seeking a report on Adenhart's work. Butcher had to know what was coming.

"When I came back to the dugout," Napoli softly said to MLB.com, "Butch, as he always does, asked how Nick threw. I told him, `That's the best inning he's pitched. The best I've ever seen him throw.'

"He threw all strikes, right where I wanted them. His curveball was right there, where it had been all night. He had his fastball command, and his changeup was there, too. The whole package.

"I remember going up to him and giving him a hug, saying, 'Good job, Nick. Way to throw the ball.'"

The emotion was surfacing in Napoli's voice as he stood in the visitors' clubhouse Thursday evening at Safeco Field.

Earlier in the day, the Angels had been represented at services in Maryland for Adenhart, killed along with two companions about three hours after he walked off the mound having pitched superbly in his season debut against an American League West rival.

"I remember before that game, in the bullpen, telling him, `Show me something tonight, Nick' -- and he did," Napoli said. "He went out and pitched an unbelievable game.

"I knew he had it in him. He was such a great talent, and he was a competitor. There was so much upside with him. He was 22 years old, just starting out. He had so much still to learn and get better.

"Who knows what he could have done? He sure had the ability, the stuff and the attitude to be great. It's tough to think about that."

Napoli sighed. He said he wanted to share something about Adenhart, the young man he was coming to know as a fun-loving guy with a talent for pantomime.

"You think about the person he was, a friend," Napoli said. "Not just on the field, what he did with a baseball, but what he was like in the clubhouse. He was starting to get comfortable with guys, and you could see his humor coming out.

"I can remember him in Spring Training imitating Robb Quinlan's swing. He had us cracking up, rolling on the floor. He also imitated one of our Double-A coaches, the way he walked, and he had us rolling again.

"He was just a great guy. It just hurts. What can you do?"

General manager Tony Reagins, among those who attended the services for Adenhart, spoke for the team when he said, "This was not about the Angels. It was about giving support to the Adenhart family.

"We still have to play baseball, take every day as it comes. We still have to play the game."

Asked about the services, manager Mike Scioscia said: "It was very private, and we're going to leave it at that."

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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