It’s hard to put into words.
I typed that sentence, which was as easy and lazy an opening as you can possibly have, yet there is no phrase that encapsulates the emotion surrounding the Angels, and the baseball community as a whole. To call it a rollercoaster would be painfully accurate, as even the highs during this period have been followed by inevitable, painful lows. Hopefully now, following one of the greatest moments in Angels’ history, the baseball community can begin a period of healing.
Friday, July 12 marked the first Angels home game since the passing of Tyler Skaggs. The Angels had played 6 games last week, but all of them were on the road. In the span between, Angels fans had to endure one of the most emotionally draining press conferences of all time, watch first time All Star Tommy La Stella go down with a leg injury, and witness Jonathan Lucroy take a hit from Jake Marisnick, who thought he had turned into a middle linebacker. We all needed this game.
It’s hard to put coherent thoughts together, as it has been for the past two weeks as I continue to try to grasp the reality of the situation. Some time after pre game, the Angels announced via Twitter that the team would all be wearing #45 Tyler Skaggs jerseys tonight. To enter the stadium tonight without the expectation of being pushed to tears would have been ignorant, but nothing could have prepared me for this. Following a 45 second moment of silence, that’s exactly what happened as Tyler’s family stepped up to the mound for Debbie to throw the first pitch to Andrew Heaney, one of Tyler’s closest friends. It was a perfect strike.
With a framed Skaggs jersey on the mound behind his family, a video tribute displaying both the pitching prowess and light hearted personality he had, and the embrace between Heaney and Tyler’s mother, it was almost too much to bear, and the game hadn’t even started yet. Seeing the Angels all in Skaggs jerseys was heartbreaking, and you just knew something special was going to happen tonight. For Tyler.
The Angels wasted no time getting jump started on the second half of the season. Following a hitless 1st inning from Taylor Cole (wearing #45), David Fletcher (wearing #45) led the bottom half off with a hit. Mike Trout (wearing #45) sent the very next pitch into orbit, a 454 foot blast to left center field. The Trout homer was very reminiscent of Dee Gordon’s home run in Jose Fernandez’s jersey following the passing of his former Marlins teammate in 2016. Dee Gordon was playing 2nd base for the Mariners tonight.
As you may have heard by now, that hitless first inning from Taylor Cole proved to be a trend for the night. With 11 more runs after the Trout home run and 8 more hitless innings from Cole and Felix Peña, the Angels finished the second combined no hitter in franchise history, with the lone blemish being a walk to Omar Narvaez in the 5th inning.
The game itself was, to be honest, the best game I’ve ever been a part of. It wasn’t the 7 run first, it wasn’t the 13 total runs, it wasn’t Matt Thaiss’ diving play, it wasn’t even the no hitter. It was the way that this team, all wearing #45 on their backs, banded together to overcome a situation many of us wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy. It was the way this community has joined together to help each other through this, with the impromptu memorial on the concrete mound outside the stadium, culminating with the ultimate tribute to a pitcher: an utter display of dominance from the pitching staff.
Baseball does a remarkable job of allowing us to feel what words often can’t. Words alone cannot put the elation in our hearts that many of us felt tonight, nor can they make us feel the despair we’ve felt for much of the last two weeks. So often in the history of our great game have we seen baseball become a symbol of healing for a grieving community. From Mike Piazza’s post 9/11 home run, to Dee Gordon’s home run for Jose, to the no hitter for Tyler tonight. Baseball is the ultimate healer, sometimes for no other reason than to return a sense of normalcy into people’s lives. There are times when the game of baseball will transcend its status as “just a game” and give us extraordinary moments such as tonight, in which the Angels pulled off the unthinkable whilst wearing the jersey of their brother, then paying the ultimate tribute by laying those jerseys around the area he knew best. Moments like these, where all you can do is shake your head in wonder, because you know words won’t be able to do it proper justice.
I don’t mean to turn into Jack Buck, but I literally don’t believe what I just saw. Tonight, I watched a movie script come to life, but one that was so far fetched and irrational that it would have never made the big screen. Never in my wildest dreams did I envision tonight turning out the way it did. A magnificent night of pitching capped off with a “We’re nasty!” from Felix Peña, while having the same “we’re nasty!” shouted from the right field bleachers, this game was all Skaggs. Tyler Skaggs was with this team tonight; on their backs, in their hearts, and watching from afar, and, somewhere, he was joining in with the bleachers with that saying of his that has become this team’s rallying cry: “We’re nasty!”