The thought of resuming the baseball season was the furthest thing from Billy Eppler’s mind on Monday as the Angels general manager and the team grappled with the death of 27-year-old pitcher Tyler Skaggs.
“That’s not where my head is right now,” Eppler said early Monday evening, just hours after Skaggs was found dead in his Southlake, Texas, hotel room. “There will be time for that, but right now it’s a time to grieve and reflect on Tyler’s impact.”
The relentless nature and daily grind of a 162-game baseball season leaves little time or space for grieving, though. The Angels and Rangers will play Tuesday night’s game in Globe Life Park as scheduled after Monday night’s game was postponed. A moment of silence in Skaggs’ memory will be observed before the game, the Rangers said.
An autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the Tarrant County Medical Examiner in Fort Worth said. The spokeswoman said the autopsy report is expected to be completed in early October.
The Angels have 77 games remaining this season, and if history is any indication, they will be played through hugs and tears and with heavy hearts, on fields that could provide a refuge for grieving players and coaches.
That’s how it was in 2009, after 22-year-old Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart and two friends were killed by a drunk driver just three days into a season that ended with the Angels winning the American League West and losing to the New York Yankees in a six-game American League championship series.
“Baseball is our safe haven, the place you can go where you have no problems,” former Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said after the Angels resumed their season with a 6-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox on April 10, 2009. “Before and after the game, that’s when you have problems.”
Hunter was part of a veteran core on a 2009 team that included pitchers John Lackey and Jered Weaver and relievers Brian Fuentes and Scot Shields, a group that, along with a coaching staff led by manager Mike Scioscia, took it upon themselves to guide less experienced players through their grief.
“All the younger guys kind of looked up to the older guys,” Hunter said in an April interview for a story on the 10-year anniversary of Adenhart’s death. “We spoke to some of the guys and I just said, ‘Hey man, this is unfortunate, but you can’t take life for granted. Kiss your loved ones. Tell your family you love them every day because you just never know when it’s gonna happen.’
“It was the same message to everybody, embrace your family, embrace this game, love your brothers because they’ve got love for you. And show the love for Nick Adenhart, who did his thing. We were so sad and down and upset, but the chemistry was already there, we were like family.”
New York Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton posted a similar message for the Angels on Instagram on Monday. Stanton was a Miami outfielder when former Marlins ace Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating crash on Sept. 25, 2016.
“RIP Bro. My heart goes out to your family,” Stanton said. “My message to the Angels, while having no time for yourself to grieve, is to hug each other, laugh, cry, lift the ones taking it extra hard up ....
“Try to focus and understand how important your strength is for his family, all of your supporters and anyone looking for the power to overcome something. They’re looking at you for guidance. So you all really need each other right now. Stay strong fellas. I’m thinking about you!”
After Adenhart’s death, black patches with the pitcher’s name and No. 34 were sewn over the hearts of Angels jerseys. A mural of Adenhart in mid-delivery was affixed to the center-field wall. Adenhart’s locker was kept intact and his jersey was hung in the dugout for every game.
The 2009 team struggled in the immediate aftermath of Adenhart’s death, but over time, the memory of the pitcher helped fuel their motivation.
“I think what kept the team together was us,” Joe Saunders, a pitcher on that team, said in an April interview. “We were doing it not only for Nick but for us, if that makes sense. We had a lot of struggles, we had injuries, a bunch of stuff going on, but we played not only for Nick but for his dad, his family.
“We as a team kind of thought that if we could win games, his family would maybe smile, Nick would smile looking down on us, and that’s kind of what our thought process was.”
Kevin Jepsen was a rookie reliever on the 2009 team and a locker-mate of Adenhart’s. The right-hander credited Hunter and other veterans for holding that team together, a task that could fall to slugger Albert Pujols, star center fielder Mike Trout and veteran shortstop Andrelton Simmons this season.
“It was a very mixed group of guys in that locker room, a good mixture of personalities,” Jepsen said in April. “Torii Hunter was huge in keeping everybody focused, and saying, ‘Let’s not forget, but let’s also remember what Nick would want us to do. I know it sounds corny, but if Nick was there, he’d say don’t worry about me guys, I’m fine, keep doing your thing.’”
Staff writer Nathan Fenno contributed to this report.