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The young man with the floppy brown hair, the long, loose body and the hair-trigger smile was on his way up the hill to play softball one afternoon this winter. The game was to benefit all the folks done wrong by the fires there, in Malibu, as well as those on the other side of the mountain.
He was one of them, born in the San Fernando Valley, raised in Santa Monica, played his big-league ball down in Orange County. In the winters he’d throw at Pepperdine, return south along Pacific Coast Highway, sometimes stop at the barbecue joint in Venice, a good time just a casual smile away, all that life up ahead.
On his way to the field, he struck up a conversation with an acquaintance, who asked if he’d done anything fun this winter.
“Nah, not really,” he said.
He took a few steps in silence.
“Well, I got married,” he said, and burst into laughter.
Tyler Skaggs died Monday in a hotel room a long way from home. He was 27 years old. His wife’s name is Carli. And on that winter’s afternoon he walked that hill toward the field describing their wedding, who came, how beautiful she looked, what a time it was, and all that life up ahead. His voice rose. He could hardly wait.
He pitched for the Los Angeles Angels. That was what he did. It wasn’t always perfect. He was young and left-handed and was afflicted with the usual mound symptoms of youth and left-handedness. But it was good and it was getting better and he always had a plan for what’s next — more changeups or harder in on the right-handed hitters — and he spoke of those plans with a spirit of determination. He talked about being great.
That was what he did.
Who he was, though, was a young man who would go on about his mom, Debbie, for as long as you’d sit still. She is a softball legend in Los Angeles, first as a player and then as a coach. And she coached up and mommed up this beautiful kid into a generous and respectful man, the kind who’d tell you his plans because he so believed in them, the kind who’d sit in a big-league clubhouse going on about his mom.
The Southlake (Texas) Police Dept. said it found a man in his hotel room Monday afternoon, hours before the Angels were to play the Texas Rangers in a baseball game. The statement said he was unresponsive, that he was pronounced deceased, that no foul play was suspected, that he was 27, that his name is Tyler Skaggs.
This, then, is who the Angels will be again, a team gutted by sadness, an organization that couldn’t know what to say, what to do, whom to hug next. Just 10 years ago they buried Nick Adenhart, at 22. That doesn’t go away, not with the seasons or the years or the generations. They start again with Tyler Skaggs, his mother and father, and Carli, and a roomful of friends limited only by the size of the room, and the forever mourning of a man they were all growing up with.
They would have together as many days ahead as they could see. Tyler had found his person in Carli. And she, in him. He’d said so on his way up the hill that day, when behind him there was only the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, and ahead of him so, so much more.
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