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Virginia Tech supplies comfort to grieving parents

by Jenni Carlson Published: June 1, 2008
SITTING in the bleachers at Hall of Fame Stadium, Rusty Denney found himself dreaming.

He was watching the Women's College World Series and cheering for Virginia Tech this week, but he was thinking of his daughter. She played softball, practicing hard and showing promise.

Was she good enough to make it to Oklahoma City one day?

It's an unanswerable question.

Adrianne Denney died a year and a half ago, an unexpected tragedy that brought her parents to an unexpected place.

Rusty and Julie Denney never intended to be in Oklahoma City this week. Never expected to be wearing Virginia Tech maroon and orange, either. But a pitching performance for the ages sparked a chain of events that led the Denneys from Casey, Ill., to Knoxville, Tenn., to Ann Arbor, Mich., all the way to Hall of Fame Stadium.

A place that has been a field of dreams for many has become a place of healing for Rusty and Julie Denney.

"You've got to dream,” Rusty said, "or you won't survive.”

Adrianne Denney started playing softball when she was only 5 and knew she wanted to be a pitcher by the time she was 8.

She spent hours and hours practicing. She took pitching lessons. She went to camp. But most of all, she pitched to her dad in the driveway. Together, they drilled her mechanics and increased her velocity and refined her skills.

Success followed in summer ball. There were state titles and national tournament appearances, one that even brought the family to Oklahoma. Adrianne played in Tulsa, but then, the team traveled to Oklahoma City to see the bombing memorial.

"Mom,” Julie remembers Adrianne saying that day, "this is not something people should come to lightly.”

Adrianne had a seriousness about her. How else to explain how she excelled in everything she tried? She was an honor student, an accomplished singer and a standout pitcher.

As a high school freshman, she threw seven no-hitters and led her team to the state championship game. Having been clocked at 65 miles per hour, it only seemed like a matter of time before colleges would take notice.

One morning, not long after that 2006 state championship game, Adrianne told her parents that her right arm felt cold. Doctors eventually determined that she had thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition that causes nerve and artery problems in the shoulder. It's a condition that has affected several Major League Baseball players, including Hank Blalock and Kenny Rogers.

Adrianne had surgery, but the problem returned and required a second surgery.

While in the hospital recovering from the second surgery, Adrianne suffered an aneurysm. She went into cardiac arrest and died on the operating table.

"You never think it's going to happen to you,” Rusty said.

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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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