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Angels

Fans gather outside Angel Stadium to mourn death of Tyler Skaggs

Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs was found dead in his hotel room only hours before the opener of a four-game series with the Texas Rangers and three days before the 27-year-old left-hander was scheduled to make his next start.

The boy rushed through the front door late Monday, collapsed on the couch and started crying. He had just returned from a trip, and his mother wondered whether her son had gotten in some sort of trouble.

Justin Carlson, 7, had heard on the radio that Tyler Skaggs, one of his favorite players on his favorite team, had died suddenly.

“He wanted to do something,” said his mother, Neomi. “He didn’t know what to do.”

On Tuesday, Justin put on his Mike Trout shirt, and his 12-year-old brother, Gary, put on his. The family headed to Angel Stadium, where each boy carefully placed a bouquet of flowers at the edge of the impromptu and rapidly growing memorial to Skaggs, a young pitcher who a day earlier was found unresponsive in his room at the team’s hotel in Southlake, Texas.

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Gary wore one of his mother’s Angels caps. Embroidered on the side, in white letters: “NA 34,” in tribute to the late Nick Adenhart. His mother said she probably would add “TS 45” to honor Skaggs.

The death of a young athlete is so rare that few teams have seen it before. The Angels have, too many times.

The brick pitching mound on the entrance plaza at Angel Stadium looked much the same Tuesday as it did 10 years ago, when Adenhart passed: covered in flowers and balloons, baseball caps and baseballs, teddy bears and rally monkeys, memorial candles and hand-written cards and signs.

A steady parade of fans dropped by to pay their respects, many clutching flowers, some carrying nothing besides comforting wishes. Some fans chatted with others. Some took pictures. Some remained alone with their thoughts and prayers. Some took pictures of the scene, and of the “TYLER SKAGGS 1991-2019” signs on the video boards overlooking the stadium entrance, and on the Big A alongside the 57 Freeway.

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“It’s almost like losing a family member,” said Rick Brown of Anaheim, who has a tattoo of the Big A on his arm.

“If you’re a fan of the team, year in and year out, these guys are part of your day,” he added. “It’s our way of coming and saying goodbye to him. To see other Angel fans do it, it’s comforting.”

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Brown came out and said goodbye to Adenhart here too. He recalled that day seeming even more jarring: Adenhart had pitched the night before his death, at Angel Stadium and in front of his father. Adenhart’s friends Henry Pearson and Courtney Stewart also had died when a drunk driver slammed into their car, and photographs and video of the crumpled car were everywhere.

“It seemed like it was unreal,” Brown said. “But both of these are unreal.”

The cause of Skaggs’ death has not been determined, although police do not suspect foul play and ruled out suicide.

Adenhart died in April. The Angels did not remove the memorial until December, when the weathered red caps had turned pink, and they let Adenhart’s family keep whatever artifacts they liked.

The handwritten notes are the most poignant. Skaggs, 27, had spurred the Angels to wear cowboy gear on their flight to Texas on Sunday. The memorabilia on the brick mound included two cowboy hats, one inscribed with this: “RIP #45. Best Pitcher. Always Remembered.”

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On a plastic batting helmet: “You were the kindest player I had EVER interacted with.”

Adam Jenkins, 11, left a picture he had taken with Skaggs. Jenkins lives in Corona, but he was at the beach Monday when he heard Skaggs had died. He did not believe it until his older brother showed him the news on Instagram.

Adam recalled how Skaggs had taken the time to visit with him and his brother during spring training, signing autographs, talking pitching and taking a picture. So Adam wrote a personal thanks to Skaggs on a copy of the picture, added it to the memorial collection, then took a few steps back and prayed for a few minutes.

Adam also wore a Trout shirt.

“Trout’s his guy,” his mother, Jessica, said. “Tyler’s his pitcher.”

Skaggs still was smiling Tuesday, on an oversized picture wrapped around one of the poles fans see when they enter Angel Stadium through the main gate. Walk straight ahead, and Trout smiles at you. Veer right, and Andrelton Simmons smiles at you. Veer left, and Skaggs smiles at you.

His memory will live on there, at least for a while, and on memorial patches — his number, 45 — on the Angels’ uniforms.

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And his memory will live on with Justin Carlson, the 7-year-old who brought flowers to the ballpark Tuesday. Justin is about to start play on a summer youth league team in Garden Grove.

The team is called the Angels. Justin said he would ask for No. 45.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin


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