ANAHEIM, Calif. — There is another young man on the center-field fence here, another ghostly photo of a young man captured as he was, never to throw that pitch, never to look back, never to grow old.
Grievously familiar with that place on that wall in this ballpark, with a young man there and gone forever, the Los Angeles Angels coped with another calendar page, managed another day toward they knew not what, and held tight to the family of Tyler Skaggs — his mom, Debbie, his wife, Carli, all those brothers, new and worn, by blood and otherwise, themselves included.
In a ceremony Friday night at Angel Stadium, the players wore his number — 45 — and his name on their backs, like the jersey that still hangs in a locker in their clubhouse. They bowed their heads for another 45 seconds. They said goodbye again, in case he’d missed the first million times they’d said it, and they hugged his mom and wife and step-dad and step-brother. Debbie, the former softball player, threw a hard strike to Tyler’s best friend, Andrew Heaney, then looked to the sky.
How often they’d played catch together. How often she’d driven to a sandlot or a ballpark or a stadium. How many anthems she had stood for. How many hellos she’d waved to his teammates. How many baseball games she’d seen with him on that mound, 10 inches above the rest. Now his teammates held her and told her how sorry they were, how much they loved him, and she rested her head on their shoulders.
Eleven days after Tyler Skaggs died in a Texas hotel room, 10 years after Nick Adenhart was first on that wall, the Angels had themselves another hard cry. For him. For themselves. For his widow. For his mom.
Moments before the ceremony, Carli sat on the dugout bench beside a framed jersey. She rested her hand on the frame.
Then the Angels played a near-perfect baseball game. Two pitchers — Taylor Cole for the first two innings and Felix Peña for the next seven — combined on the club’s 11th no-hitter. The Angels beat the Seattle Mariners, 13-0. On a night they were all Tyler Skaggs, No. 45, ballplayer, guy who would have absolutely loved this.
A child is raised. He is decent and kind. He finds a world about which he is passionate. He makes it his life’s work, which sometimes doesn’t seem like work at all, which is the best kind. He calls plenty, remembers what he’s supposed to remember, laughs at what he’s always laughed at. He hardly changes at all in his mom’s eyes. There’s simply more of him, until there’s not.
A friend arrives. He is shy at first, but for the impish grin that gives him away. He seems to know when to lead, when to follow, when to stand at his friend’s shoulder. He is the first to celebrate, the first to grieve, this gangly and good-natured and real friend who hardly changes at all in a complicated world. It’s always, always, simply him, until it’s not.
A teammate grows. He is a good ballplayer and that is fine, that is expected. He is here, after all, a big leaguer. He also cares. He helps push or pull or whatever is required, sometimes what is not required, so just a little bit more. He is there for them often enough that they must be there for him, even if his picture is in that place on that fence. Especially if he is in that place on that fence.
So a memorial rises at the entrance of the stadium, another memorial on the bricks where they put the flowers and caps and knick-knacks, along with the messages written in the practiced penmanship of children.
So Mike Trout homers on the first pitch he gets and he scans the crowd for the family, because he needs them to know Tyler is on his mind. Tyler’s step-brother, Garret, wears the white No. 11 Tyler wore at Santa Monica High School, back when the Angels picked him out and made him theirs.
So a group of men and a baseball franchise and a brotherhood and a sport tries to hoist themselves, to catch their breaths, to carry on.
“Obviously we lost somebody way too soon,” union chief Tony Clark had said earlier in the week. “What’s difficult for me, as I’m assuming was difficult for many of you, is that at 27 years old you go to sleep one night and you don’t wake up.”
He wondered if Tyler had called home to say goodnight, to say I love you. He presumed he had. And the thought became stuck somewhere in his throat.
Angels manager Brad Ausmus shrugged and said he hoped another day passing and a public grieving might, “Ease the pain a little bit,” though he did not seem convinced.
And general manager Billy Eppler said he keeps a document on his computer desktop that holds the organizational depth chart at every position, including at pitcher.
“I haven’t even looked at it,” he said. “I haven’t even opened the document. I can tell you that.”
As they have done most days since, the Angels played the baseball game that was on the schedule. On this night, they stepped around the memorial out front. They passed the locker on the far side of the room. They gathered up Tyler Skaggs’ family, taking strength from that, giving the strength they had. They said goodbye again.
They honored the young man in that place on that wall in this ballpark, whom they’d help to raise, whom they’d seen arrive, whom they’d watched grow. He’d been their friend. Is their friend. Is their brother, by blood and otherwise.
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