Having learned Sunday that the Los Angeles Angels were sending him back down to the Salt Lake Bees, pitcher Luke Bard shared a goodbye hug with his locker neighbor, Tyler Skaggs.
“The next day,” Bard said solemnly, “he was gone.”
Skaggs, 27, died Monday of an unknown cause in a hotel room in Arlington, Texas, where the Angels had traveled to begin a four-game series vs. Texas. Bard and the Bees returned Thursday to Smith’s Ballpark, as manager Lou Marson and his players continued to process a stunning development in the Angels organization.
Because of Skaggs' personality, his death hit home for a big chunk of the Bees' roster. “It didn't matter if you were Mike Trout or Michael Hermosillo, he was going to treat you the exact, same way,” said Hermosillo, a Bees outfielder.
“I can’t say enough good things about Tyler as a person,” Bard said. “He was just an awesome guy. He had a way of encouraging everybody, lifting you up. … It’s going to be a huge void that’s never going to be able to be filled.”
Drafted by the Angels in 2009, Skaggs pitched briefly for the rookie-league Orem Owlz. After being traded to Arizona and coming back to the Angels, he pitched for the Bees in 2014 and returned to Salt Lake in 2016 during his recovery from Tommy John surgery.
Skaggs was outstanding for the Bees that summer, posting a 3-2 record and 1.67 ERA in seven starts, with 45 strikeouts in 32 innings. While being limited to six innings and 90 pitches during his rehabilitation, he tied Jered Weaver's franchise record with 14 strikeouts in a game at Omaha.
Listening to the home team’s radio broadcast, a fan informed Skaggs of the achievement as he walked toward the dugout after the sixth inning. Having grown up idolizing Weaver in southern California, Skaggs lobbied then-Bees manager Keith Johnson and pitching Erik Bennett to let him stay in the game. By broadcaster Steve Klauke’s account, the Angels employees told Skaggs, “We like our jobs,” and kept him in the dugout.
Skaggs' response was a 12-strikeout performance at Iowa in his next start, and he was satisfied to know he owned the record for the most strikeouts in consecutive appearances.
For Klauke and other longtime staff members of the Bees and Angels, such as Salt Lake general manager Marc Amicone, Skaggs' death evoked memories of Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart's being killed by a drunk driver after an April 2009 game in Anaheim. In that case, the Bees' season opener was postponed. Adenhart had pitched in Salt Lake for most of the 2008 season and was a friend of many of the '09 team's players.
Like Adenhart, Skaggs will have a legacy with the Bees, who painted his “TS” initials on the grass just outside the third-base line, hung his jersey in the first-base dugout and placed his No. 45 in a circle on a black backdrop on the fence in right field Thursday.
The Angels' game at Texas was postponed Monday; so was the Bees' scheduled contest at Tacoma. In the first game of a doubleheader Tuesday, Bees pitcher Nick Tropeano – a good friend of Skaggs – allowed only one hit in six innings, while walking one batter and striking out seven in one of his best performances in a long time at any level.
That effort impressed Marson, who said, “A lot of guys on this team were very close to Tyler Skaggs. [Tuesday's doubleheader] was a weird feeling, for sure. … Everybody was shocked.”
Marson knew Skaggs through veteran pitcher Joe Smith, Marson's former teammate as a catcher with Cleveland. They played pickup basketball in the offseason and conversed in spring training in Arizona.
That's a recurring theme in interviews with the Bees, how Skaggs would talk to everybody. “I just think about all the conversations we had in spring training,” Hermosillo said. “He was always there for me.”
The left-hander, Bard said, was “the life of that clubhouse, obviously.”