When he emerged for Tuesday night’s All-Star game at Progressive Field, a red number 45 emblazoned on the back of his white jersey, Angels star Mike Trout felt a sense of duty.
Not to himself but to the memory of teammate Tyler Skaggs, who died suddenly and inexplicably at 27 years old last week. Unlike Trout, who has been selected to eight All-Star games, the Angels’ late left-handed pitcher never received an opportunity to attend the sport’s midseason festivities.
The memorial morphed into something bigger. A moment of silence in Skaggs’ memory was held before Tuesday’s game. Other all-stars wore No. 45 patches during pregame festivities. Most, such as Chicago White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito, sported it throughout the game. The patches, which were not sewn on, fell off the jerseys of others.
“It was special,” said Trout, who was hitless in two at-bats. “Obviously, felt him out there with me. If there’s any all-star game for me to go 0-for this is it — cuz Tyler’s a pitcher. He would wanna go out there and throw some scoreless, hitless innings.”
A year ago, Skaggs could have joined Trout on this stage. The starting pitcher had just assembled the best first half of his career. Despite carrying a 2.57 earned-run average through his first 17 starts, Skaggs was not selected to the American League team. A groin injury derailed the rest of his season.
The snub and the injury pushed Skaggs during the offseason. He worked out with mobility coach Sarah Howard in Los Angeles and consulted with renowned strength coach Eric Cressey in Florida. Skaggs wanted to become a reliable member of the Angels’ starting rotation for an entire season, not just for one part of it.
He never had the chance.
“He always wanted to be an all-star,” Trout said, “and tonight he was, for sure.”
Skaggs, a Santa Monica native like Giolito, was found dead in his Southlake, Texas, hotel room July 1, one day after he coordinated a Western-themed trip to Texas with his teammates, who had back-to-back series against the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros to close out the first half.
The local police ruled out foul play and suicide but did not release the cause of Skaggs’ death. It may not be known until the results of an autopsy are made public in early October.
Skaggs’ death rocked the baseball world. Players around the league saluted Skaggs by etching his initials and jersey number onto their hats and into the dirt on mounds. Teammate Andrew Heaney opened his start in Saturday’s loss to the Astros by throwing Skaggs’ signature curveball.
“I got it right here,” Giolito said as he pointed to the number 45 he had drawn above the bill of his hat before Tuesday’s game. “Tyler was a really good friend of mine. Just still it’s so fresh and it doesn’t feel real at times. I just feel for his family. He was just getting started, coming into his own in this league.
“For us, we lost a brother,” he added.
Trout expressed the same sentiment when the Angels played their first game after Skaggs’ passing. He and Skaggs were draft-mates, selected by the Angels 15 picks apart in 2009. They lived together during the early years of their careers, first in Tempe, Ariz., then in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A 2010 trade of Skaggs to the Diamondbacks separated them, but they were reunited four years later when the Angels reacquired the pitcher ahead of the 2014 season.
The transaction relaunched a friendship that grew deeper as the years passed. Their affection for each other reared its head when Skaggs heard that Trout had agreed to a 12-year, $426.5-million contract with the Angels this spring. He told reporters he launched a FaceTime call to congratulate Trout.
“He’s going to go down as the best player ever, and he’ll go down as an Angel in the Hall of Fame,” Skaggs raved at the time. “Greatest Angel of all time. Mr. Angel. Mr. Everything.”
Trout didn’t need to be pushed to dedicate his latest All-Star appearance to Skaggs. He reveled in the opportunity, glad to have Skaggs with him in spirit.
“We thought it would be a good way to show some love and respect for Tyler,” Trout said. “And I know he is looking out over us tonight.”