With the memory of Tyler Skaggs weighing heavy on their hearts, the Los Angeles Angels took the field for their first game since the death of the much-loved 27-year-old pitcher who got to play for his favorite childhood team.
“He was an exceptional young man with an entire life so full of promise yet to live. For some reason, that is incomprehensible to all of us, he lives on now only in our minds and our hearts,” general manager Billy Eppler said before Tuesday night’s game. “Our team will never be the same without him. But forever we’ve been made better by him.”
The Angels decided to play a day after the postponement of the series opener against the Rangers. Skaggs was found unresponsive in his hotel room in Texas on Monday. A cause of death has not been reported.
“The first game back, whether today or tomorrow was going to be one of the toughest other than yesterday,” manager Brad Ausmus said.
“The game itself is going to be a refuge for players, where they can turn their minds off and concentrate on baseball,” he added. “I don’t know that sitting in a hotel room would do them any good.”
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There was a moment of silence before the game, with the Angels lined up outside the dugout when Skaggs was recognized. The pitcher’s No. 45 was painted on the back of the mound and was also posted on the scoreboards.
Before Angels starter Jose Suarez threw his first pitch in the bottom of the first inning, the left-hander appeared to write something in the dirt with his finger on the back of the mound. He then touched the No. 45 and followed that by tapping his heart.
Public address announcer Chuck Morgan introduced the moment of silence by saying the Rangers offered their deepest sympathies and condolences to Skaggs’ family, his teammates and the entire Angels organization.
The introductions of the starting lineups by Morgan before that were uncharacteristically subdued, and the Rangers ran to their positions for the start of the game quietly without any music playing in the stadium.
When Rangers batters were introduced, there was no walk-up music played.
Eppler said he spoke to several players about whether to play or not.
“It felt it’s what Tyler would want, and also allow them to get back in a routine, and to have a period of time where they feel disconnected,” the GM said. “A lot of problems go away when the first pitch is thrown until the last pitch is thrown.”
While Angels players weren’t made available to the media, they sat in the room when Eppler and Ausmus addressed the pitcher’s death along with team owner Arte Moreno and Angels president John Carpino.
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“There are no words to express our sadness today,” Moreno said.
All-Star center fielder Mike Trout sat in a second row of seats against the wall, at times with his head down, like many of his teammates around him.
Ausmus said the team gathered together a couple of times Monday at the team hotel about 20 miles from the ballpark.
“Some of the guys spoke. I think most importantly in the end, we were able talk about Tyler and laugh about some of the stories and some of the goofy things he did, and listen to some of his music,” Ausmus said before wiping away tears.
Asked about his message to his players, Ausmus said that was a “family conversation” that would remain between them.
Rangers manager Chris Woodward said he couldn’t imagine what Ausmus and his players were going through preparing to play in that situation.
“I hate to even put myself into that, because it breaks my heart just to think about something like that,” Woodward said before the game. “The shock of it all, it’s heartbreak.”
Eppler described Skaggs as a teammate, a brother, a friend and most importantly a husband and a son who “brought joy to everybody around him.”
Angels players wore a black encircled patch with No. 45 above the heart of their uniforms.
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With the team out of town, fans went to Angel Stadium, where they left flowers, hats, baseballs, signs, photos and other memorabilia in a makeshift memorial mound.
The poignant display resembled the fan-created memorial for Nick Adenhart in 2009 after the rookie pitcher was killed by a drunk driver. That tribute stayed out front of the Big A through the summer.
Carpino said the Angels would pay tribute to Skaggs in much the same way they did Adenhart, who was killed after his first start of the 2009 season that was only his fourth major league game.
“The way we’ll honor them both is just watching these guys play,” Carpino said, referring to the players sitting to his left. “As far as the stadium, just typical with a patch and all that, but honoring him so much more with our thoughts and our hearts is the most important thing.”
© 2019 The Canadian Press