The tears flowed first, and then the words. Speaking would not come easily for Andrew Heaney on this day. There are mercifully few baseball players practiced in the art of eulogizing a teammate.
But there are few Tyler Skaggs stories that can be told without a smile or a laugh, or both. So Heaney talked about the one day this spring when Skaggs revved up his monster F-250 truck, and Heaney jumped in for a ride.
Skaggs was the resident disc jockey in the Angels’ clubhouse, always discovering the latest and loudest music. As the two pitchers rolled along, a soft piano intro somehow made its way through the speakers.
The song was “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John, recorded two decades before Skaggs’ birth.
“He had this look on his face,” Heaney said, “this little grin.”
Skaggs cranked up the volume, and the two sang loud, and way off key.
“Just living in such a moment of joyous freedom,” Heaney said. “He was never afraid to truly be himself.”
Heaney was one of 14 speakers to remember Skaggs on Monday at St. Monica’s Catholic Church in Santa Monica at a memorial service led by the pastor who gave him his first communion. The 900 seats in the church were full.
The Angels team arrived on three buses. Other mourners included Angels owner Arte Moreno, former Angels manager Mike Scioscia, former teammates David Freese, Garrett Richards, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, and current major leaguers and fellow Southern California natives Ryan Braun (Milwaukee Brewers) and Jack Flaherty (St. Louis Cardinals).
Speakers included longtime Angels executive Tim Mead, the new president of the Hall of Fame, who flew across the country after overseeing Sunday’s induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y.
“Tyler has brought us together,” said the pastor, Lloyd Torgerson. “Our world is as divided today as it has ever been. No question. We’re all fighting and quarreling, and not talking to each other. His death, his life, has brought all of us together: his family; the Angels; some of the Dodgers, maybe; other people in the community. That is a blessing that we can’t take for granted.”
The last of the speakers, unplanned, was Skaggs’ wife, Carli. The couple had married just last December and had planned on trying to start a family this winter.
“Last minute decision to speak,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d be able to do it. Tyler gave me some strength.”
She spoke tenderly of sharing true love. She also shared the traditions the couple had embraced, including “dinner at Benihana’s, daily Jacuzzi, and late-night runs to In-N-Out.”
After the two-hour service concluded, an In-N-Out catering truck was on site, serving double-doubles at the reception.
Skaggs, an Angels starting pitcher, was 27 when he was found dead July 1 in a hotel room the day after the Angels traveled to Texas to begin a consecutive series against the Rangers and Houston Astros. Authorities ruled out suicide and foul play and have said they expect to complete laboratory testing and announce a cause of death in October.
Skaggs wore No. 45 as an Angel. Two floral arrangements graced the church, each with 45 in red flowers amid a backdrop of white flowers. As mourners entered the church, they could reach into a basket for a memorial pin, with “SKAGGS” and “45” in red letters on a white background.
The Major League Baseball Players Assn. announced a $45,000 donation to the Tyler Skaggs Baseball Foundation, established to support youth sports and other community programs that “make a real difference in the lives of kids and families every day.”
However, of the first four photos mourners could see as they entered the church, none pictured him as a baseball player. One featured him as a newlywed, with his wife, in matching white clothes. One showed him wearing a Lakers jersey, one pictured him wearing a Mike Tyson T-shirt, and one captured him as a young boy, smiling with his eyes closed, sitting upon and embracing a giant stuffed lion.
That lion belonged to his aunt, Dianna Heikkila. She and her husband made a last-minute trip to St. Louis — booking the tickets on a Saturday, for a game the next day — for the chance to see Skaggs pitch and hit in a National League ballpark.
“We figured the opportunity to see Tyler pitch at Busch Stadium would only happen once in a lifetime,” she said.
That turned out to be the final road game Skaggs would pitch. After the game, Heikkila recalled how she told Skaggs that giant stuffed lion would be waiting for him, and for the child he and Carli hoped soon to have.
Richards, now with the San Diego Padres, hails from Oklahoma. He remembered the never-ending banter in which he would stand up for his Oklahoma City Thunder and Skaggs would back his Lakers.
“Tyler always ended the conversation with one word,” Richards said. “Banners.”
The stories flowed along with the tears, stories about Skaggs’ love of Taco Tuesdays and about his pride in his hometown of Santa Monica, about his half-dozen nicknames that included one in Yiddish, about his “Trapzilla” pose in the gym, about the pitcher that his agent said resembled “a broomstick with a hat on the mound” as a high school junior, about how he wrapped his genuine friendship in a layer of swagger.
At one point, a speaker asked anyone who considered Skaggs to be a close friend to rise. Hundreds did.
Heaney concluded this way: “Take a moment and think of a story or an image that reminds you of all the good times you had with Ty. Take that memory and hold it in your hearts and in your minds. That is his lasting gift to everyone here.”
Every now and then, when Skaggs controlled the sound system in the clubhouse, or the weight room, or on the airplane, a silly smile would spread over his face. He’d put on “Tiny Dancer.”
“This one’s for you, Hean,” Skaggs would say.
When Heaney started at Angel Stadium last Tuesday, his first home game since Skaggs’ passing, he changed his entrance music. As he threw his warmup pitches, the song that accompanied them was “Tiny Dancer.”