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Adenhart's memory inspires Angels

Adenhart's memory inspires Angels

ANAHEIM -- Nick Adenhart was in the Angels' hearts and minds all season. He was remembered on Monday night through poignant words and an impromptu journey to a now sacred spot after the team he graced before his April 9 death clinched the American League West title.

Amid the celebration after an 11-0 decision over the Rangers at Angel Stadium, the players left the clubhouse to go to center field and touch the image of Adenhart in the memorial on the wall.

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Angels at a glance
2009 record: 97-65
2008 record: 100-62
AL West champs

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
Figgins: Staying true
Angels: Road warriors
Figgins/Abreu: Spark plugs
Bullpen: Stepping up
Figgins: The ignitor
Scioscia: Fundamental key
Vlad: Focused on present
Hatcher: Enjoying success
Scioscia: Approach the key
Aybar: More than just glove
Morales: Putting it together
Abreu: Lauded by 'mates
Wilson: Not alone
Vlad: Resume builder
Weaver: Family matters
Abreu: Hall of Famer?
Saunders: Overcame injury
Lackey: Playoff veteran
Kazmir: Ties to Morales
Jepsen: Remembering Nick
Weaver: Path to pros
Hunter: Humbled by honor
Lackey: It all began in '02
Weaver: Growing as player
Reagins: Built from within
Morales: Back in the groove
Abreu: Influence extends
Scioscia: Catcher at heart
Lackey: Halos' leader
Morales: Gomez's legacy
Abreu: Embracing his role
Jepsen: Honoring Adenhart
Lackey: Takes place as ace
Weaver: Glue of staff
Scioscia: Postseason fixture
Morales: Perseverance

"We went out there and said our prayers to Nick," said reliever Kevin Jepsen, a close friend of Adenhart and the player in charge of taking his No. 34 into the dugout each game. "We just wanted to let him know he's with us."

From manager Mike Scioscia through the ranks of players and Angels employees, it has been a heavy challenge getting through the trauma and mourning of Adenhart's loss.

"Just like Sosh said, he's been with us every step of the way this season and he'll continue to stay with us throughout the playoffs and beyond," Jepsen added.

Scioscia was in his office, calmly reviewing the game as he would any other, showing little emotion -- until Adenhart was mentioned.

"We remembered Nick before we started," Scioscia said. "He's with us. We've played the whole year with heavy hearts.

"But it was never about us, and it isn't about us. It's all about supporting Nick's family in any small way, and we're going to bring Nick's memory forward in his memory.

"The fact we can support that family in some way gives us a sense of peace."

As his athletes celebrated in the familiar fashion of frat boys gone wild, Adenhart's jersey surfacing during the celebration, Scioscia was aware of a deeper reality expressed by his leadoff man.

"When you lose someone you care so much about, a teammate, that's something that never leaves you," Chone Figgins said, wearing an Adenhart T-shirt and speaking softly amid the racket. "Baseball is secondary to Nick passing. It will always be that way. He'll always be with us."

A two-time World Series champion as a player with the Dodgers and the most successful manager in Angels history, Scioscia's 10th season has been incredibly draining.

He knows another competitive challenge lies ahead in the form of Boston's menacing Red Sox, who are one win or one Rangers loss away from claiming the AL Wild Card -- and another AL Division Series date with Scioscia's club.

At this moment, the Sox and all the planning and scheming could wait. This was a time for calm reflection and feeling the satisfaction that comes with a trip to the postseason, acknowledging the magnitude of the accomplishment.

"We're a team with great character," Scioscia said. "I think it showed on the field. The first goal is always the toughest and the longest grind. Now we're going to move on and hopefully play a good series and keep going.

"A lot of guys have been banged up. There's always a little anxiety that builds up, and you need that release."

This, however, was a different kind of release, one rooted in a painful experience preceding all the energy required to fulfill a mission.

"Even though there's a release in that clubhouse," Scioscia said, "there's a heaviness. It's always going to be with us."

It will be the sixth trip to the playoffs in Scioscia's 10 seasons for a franchise that had three such journeys in its first 39 years of existence. The Angels' only championship came in Scioscia's third season.

"He's such a great manager to play for," said Bobby Abreu, who came to the Angels in February as a bargain-basement free agent and has been among the most valuable players in the sport. "He just lets you play.

"There's a respect there you feel playing for him. He wants you to be a winner and play the game with heart, play smart."

Before the game, Scioscia had called Abreu the team's most MVP, quickly adding that center fielder Torii Hunter, had it not been for a midseason groin injury, would have been the league's MVP.

"That makes me feel good, to hear that," Abreu said. "I'm doing my best for the team, helping any way I can. It's been a long year, and we're where we wanted to be. Now we have to keep it going."

While mourning the loss of one of their most popular players, a young athlete with everything in front of him, the Angels forged ahead and made good things happen.

They did it with resolve and heart, responding to a manager who somehow kept it all together.

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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