Two Years Later…

Everyone has a favorite player that’s not on their favorite team. The one that you watch that team’s games for. The one who makes you a fan of their team. Mine was Tyler Skaggs. It still feels weird to talk about him in the past tense. Two years later and I still think about him almost every day. Every time I watch an Angels game, I think about how he should be starting. I used to write down all of his starts so I could remember to watch them. Then one day, I just stopped. And never did it again.

I started watching the Angels in the summer of 2018. I was in my second full season of being a “die-hard” baseball fan and was starting to branch out into watching more teams. I picked the Angels because Shohei Ohtani had recently made his rookie debut and was tearing up the majors, much like he is now. While watching the first few games, I started liking a lot of other players. Andrew Heaney, Mike Trout (obviously), David Fletcher, among others. But one really stood out to me. A starting pitcher from Santa Monica, California who was about as average as they came. Tyler Wayne Skaggs. Swaggy. He averaged a 4.66 ERA, 1.377 WHIP, and 8.0 K/9 over the first six years of his career, but something about him just stood out to me. Maybe it was his humility after each win. Maybe it was how he never blamed the losses on his teammates. Maybe it was how he always kept the dugout and the viewers smiling with his antics. It was all of that, really. He was everything a baseball player should be. Someone to look up to. So I picked him as my favorite player. 

After a while, I went searching through my stack of baseball cards to see if I had any of his. Lucky for me, I had two. So I did what I do every time I find a new favorite player. I put his cards in my phone case. At this time, I was a manager for my high school baseball team, and I had a game that night. I had my phone lying on the bench in the dugout, and one of the players saw the cards in my case. “Who’s that?” he asked me. I had to remind myself that not everyone watches every team from time to time. But I told him who it was and who he played for. I’d easily take any chance I got to talk about my favorite players.

On June 28th, 2019, I bought tickets for an August 2nd Cleveland game vs. the Angels. I wanted to see both of my favorite teams on my birthday. Two days later, I bought a piece of poster board for a couple of signs that I wanted to make. Specifically, one for Tyler so that I had a better chance of meeting him. I did (and still do) that for every game, and it’s worked out pretty well so far. So I had everything purchased and ready to go to see my favorite away player in just about a month. It was time to start counting down the days! But the day never came.

On the afternoon of July 1st, my family had a relative over for dinner. We were all just relaxing in the summer heat, watching TV while my mom prepared the food. I picked up my phone and decided to scroll Twitter for a little bit to get updated on any baseball news I may have missed. I saw a statement from the Angels. “Angels statement on the passing of Tyler Skaggs: It is with great sorrow that we report Tyler Skaggs passed away earlier today in Texas. Tyler has, and always will be, an important part of the Angels family. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Carli and his entire family during this devastating time. -Angels Baseball” What? I didn’t read that right. Let me read it again. What?? That can’t be right. He’s 27. What happened? My head started spinning. What the hell did I just read? I walked up to my room so I could process it. I couldn’t do anything but cry. I texted my mom, “I’m sorry I’m not downstairs. I just found out one of my favorite baseball players died.” I had to dry my tears and go down to dinner. The rest of the day sort of went by in a blur, but I remember one positive detail of it all. The sunset was absolutely gorgeous that night. I thought maybe he left that for me. Even today, every time I see a pretty sunset I think of him. I can’t help but think that it’s just him checking in. The days following weren’t much easier. I remember crying a lot. It didn’t really make sense to me. How could I be so upset over someone who didn’t even know I existed? I was told to move on pretty frequently. I was trying. I knew it was a bit stupid to be so upset about it. But every time I saw a post about him, it made me miss him more. 

A month later, I traveled to Cleveland to see them face off against the Angels. It wasn’t the day I had been expecting a month earlier. I didn’t have my sign, I didn’t go down to the Angels dugout, and he wasn’t there. Of course I was in head to toe Cleveland gear, but I had something else on for the other team. I had my Skaggs 45 t-shirt on. It wasn’t much, but something to show my support and love. I tried not to be sad as the players walked out with their 45 patches on and the pitcher wrote the number on the mound. Yes, I still missed him very much, but this was a happy day. I was seeing my two favorite teams and it was my birthday. I didn’t think about what was supposed to happen. I was going to have a great time. We beat the Angels 7-3 and I got to see a fireworks show after the game. It was a great time. Even though he wasn’t there and I didn’t get to see him, I was blessed to even be there at all, seeing his team and showing them my support.

Two years have gone by since that day, and I still think about him all the time. July 1st never gets any easier, and I don’t think it ever will. It’s a day I dread. But I don’t really get sad about it anymore. Yes, he’s gone. Yes, he never got to make that start at Dodger Stadium that he had dreamed of as a kid. Yes, he missed his 28th birthday by three weeks. Yes, those things make me sad to think about.

Instead, I think about all of the good things about him. The videos of him dancing in the dugout, his bucket hats, his friendship with Andrew, all things that make me smile. There have been some new reports coming out lately about the employees involved, the lawsuit, and other findings. I don’t think about those things. That’s not how I want to remember him. I want to remember the smiling, laughing face that made an appearance even after his worst starts. Over the past couple of years, people have come to realize how much he means to me. I’ve been sent his baseball cards, people send me pictures and videos of him, and I was even sent his jersey by one of my lovely followers named Jennifer. Even though he doesn’t play anymore, he still is and always will be on my list of favorite players. Every time someone asks me my favorite non-Cleveland player, I still say him. I wish I could tell him that, but I believe he knows by now. Love you, 45.

Madelyn Hipp

Madelyn is currently a student in Aviation Management at Purdue University. She is a huge Cleveland and Big Ten baseball fan, among other sports such as hockey, golf, NASCAR, and air racing. She can be found @baseballcontext on Twitter.

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