ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Tyler Skaggs‘ jersey hangs in his untouched locker in the Los Angeles Angels’ clubhouse, his pristine cleats and gloves ready for a ballgame.
The big stereo system in the room’s center is silent because the affable left-hander who controlled the Angels’ musical choices is no longer here.
And on the far wall of the clubhouse, two photos of Skaggs now flank his competitive catchphrase written in foot-high letters: “WE’RE NASTY.”
The late pitcher’s grieving teammates returned to Angel Stadium on Friday night for the first time since Skaggs was found in his hotel room in Texas nearly two weeks ago. His presence will be felt at the stadium for the rest of the Angels’ season, from his intact locker to a large likeness of the pitcher now displayed prominently on the center field wall.
“He’s still a part of the team, even though he’s not here,” Angels manager Brad Ausmus said.
A memorial created by fans in front of the Big A’s main entrance has grown to the size of a pitcher’s mound, with hats, signs and baseballs and other Angels memorabilia delivered to the stadium by heartbroken fans over the past 10 days. Most of the Angels saw the memorial in person for the first time when they returned from a difficult road trip and the ensuing All-Star break.
The Angels planned a pregame ceremony to celebrate Skaggs’ life before they faced the Seattle Mariners on the day before what would have been the pitcher’s 28th birthday.
“I think guys will become emotional again, because it is still very fresh,” Ausmus said. “That’s fine. We’re human beings. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
The baseball season’s relentless pace forces the Angels to heal while they play, and they’re back to work after a somber All-Star break during which Skaggs was honored at the game in Cleveland. The Angels also persevered through last week on the road with a resilience that impressed general manager Billy Eppler, who had grown personally close to Skaggs.
“In some respects, sometimes keeping busy can help,” Eppler said. “I don’t really know if that’s the right way to go about it, because you do need to grieve. Everybody has those moments, personal to them. I’ve had a couple of those myself. But for a lot of us, seeing each other again is nice.”
The Angels’ clubhouse was quiet before the game, with most of the present players absorbed in their phones before batting practice. While the initial shock has worn off, Skaggs was a well-liked player and leader whose absence is still crushing.
“He’s the life of the team, honestly,” said veteran infielder Zack Cozart, Skaggs’ teammate for the past two seasons. “We’re family in here. We’re around each other all day, every day. You just hurt so much for Tyler’s family. … It’s so sudden and so tragic. Forty-five (Skaggs’ jersey number) will always be in my mind. That’s how it’s always going to be for all of us.”
Somber ceremonies and sadness are nothing new for the Angels, who have far too many heartbreaking chapters in their history.
In April 2009, promising pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver just a few miles from Angel Stadium, only a few hours after the 22-year-old right-hander had thrown six scoreless innings in his season debut.
In September 1978, Angels outfielder Lyman Bostock was shot and killed in Gary, Indiana, a few hours after playing at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.
Angels relief prospect Bruce Heinbechner died in a car crash during spring training in 1974, two years after infielder Chico Ruiz died in a car crash shortly after the Angels released him.
In 1977, 23-year-old shortstop Mike Miley also died in a car accident shortly after his second season with the Angels.
Donnie Moore, the former Angels reliever who gave up Dave Henderson’s historic home run in the 1986 AL Championship Series, killed himself in 1989 in Anaheim.
In December 2018, 33-year-old infielder Luis Valbuena was killed in his native Venezuela when his car crashed as the driver attempted to avoid a robbery. Valbuena had been released by the Angels four months earlier.