Angels in the Outfield: A Tragedy Turned Miracle for Jonathan Wilhite
Last week Mariano Rivera induced a Shane Victorino groundout that crowned the Yankees World Series Champions and officially put an end to the Major League Baseball season.
2009 was certainly a memorable one; there were steals of home, a perfect game and some historic pennant races down the stretch. At least one memory, though, isn’t a good one.
On April 9th, in just the first week of the MLB season, tragedy struck in a big way. After pitching six shutout innings against the A’s, easily the best start of Nick Adenhart’s young and promising career as an Angel , the 22-year-old made plans to celebrate with three friends. Just a block away from their destination, a drunk driver blew through a red light at 65 miles-per-hour, smashing into the car the four young adults were traveling in.
Courtney Stewart, the driver of the vehicle Adenhart was traveling in, was pronounced dead on the scene. Later that night, both Henry Pearson and Adenhart passed away at a nearby hospital.
The news of this terrible event sent waves of sadness and gloom over the families and friends of the victims, as well as the Angels organization, the entire MLB, and the country as a whole.
Three innocent people who should’ve had plenty more time on this planet had their lives torn away.
It was no surprise when a grieving Angels organization canceled the team’s game the next night. There was a much bigger and completely unforeseen surprise coming though, and from it perhaps the most memorable and touching moment of the '09 season.
The fourth passenger in Stewart’s car was 24-year-old Jonathan Wilhite. During the accident, Wilhite suffered substantial injuries including internal decapitation. Wilhite’s skull separated from his spine and was left attached to his body by only skin and muscle.
That injury kills 95 percent of the people who suffer it immediately. Of the other 5 percent, most victims end up passing in the hospital, or paralyzed in a wheel chair and hooked up to a ventilator for their remaining days.
No, the former Cal-State Fullerton catcher survived the long odds of the injury. He survived the intensive 30-person, five-hour surgery that followed and ultimately saved his life.
He battled hard with therapists to regain his life in the months that followed. He regained more motor skills than anyone could’ve imagined.
When the Angels squared off with the A’s on August 29th to make up the game canceled the night after the tragedy, he was even able to make the trip to Angel Stadium for the game.
In fact, not only was he there but he was honored by the Angels, and in turn able to honor his fallen friends. Wilhite took the mound before the game to throw out the first pitch. The Angels had fitted him with a custom made jersey sporting his name on the back.
It was the three black patches on the front though that might have meant the most that day. One patch had Adenhart’s #34 on it.
The other two had the initials of Stewart and Pearson. The crowd welcomed him to the mound with a standing ovation that didn’t subside until he left the field.
Wilhite delivered the ceremonial first pitch to his collegiate teammate and friend, A’s catcher Kurt Suzuki in front of a crowd that featured the families of Pearson, Stewart, and Adenhart.
He later talked about how he was never alone on the mound that day, as there were three others there with him.
Maybe those three have become Wilhite’s own Angels.
The miracle that is his life continues to grow each day as he gets more and more of his normal function back.
In fact, he plans to surf and snowboard as soon as his doctor gives him clearance because he wasn't willing to try those things during his playing days at Fullerton for fear of injury. As far as those playing days are concerned he’s even planning to return to the playing field and play in Fullerton's alumni game next year.
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