There is a little hill amidst the patterned concrete tiles that line the front entrance of Angel Stadium. It’s made up of Angels hats, of flowers, of red plush Rally Monkeys. It’s a shrine, dedicated to late Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, that lingers in the mind long after walking into the stadium and sitting in a seat.
There is a little hill inside Angel Stadium, too. It’s an immaculately groomed dirt mound in the middle of the baseball diamond. Skaggs once made his living there, firing mixes of looping curveballs and whistling fastballs to rack up nearly 500 strikeouts over the course of his brief seven-year career. But even after his death on July 1, Skaggs remains on that mound, in the form of a large “45” carved into the dirt – the number stitched across the back of his jersey.
Noe Ramirez remembers the first time he touched it, the number. It was July 14, the first home game that the reliever had pitched in since Skaggs’ death. It’s that appearance that stands out to Ramirez outside of any of his other experiences in his five-year Major League Baseball career, because it felt as if No. 45 was out there with him, Ramirez said. Before his first pitch of the inning, he took a momentary pause.
“I looked down at 45,” Ramirez said. “I tapped his number with my glove, I shook my head and just said, ‘Love you, Tyler.’” He threw 1 ½ innings in that game against the Seattle Mariners, not allowing a run, striking out two.
Many years from now, the Los Angeles Angels’ 2019 season likely won’t be remembered for extended periods of excellence on the baseball field – they experienced a rash of injuries, finishing with 72 wins and 90 losses and well out of striking distance from the playoffs. What does stand out is Skaggs’ death; yet more prominently, how teammates and fans sought to honor the pitcher’s memory throughout the course of the season.
Ramirez and infielder David Fletcher commented on the outpouring of support from the Angels’ fan base, both indicating that it helped members of the team work through the loss.
“These fans showed their true colors when we had Tyler pass away; everybody was out here supporting, a lot of love was sent our way through social media, word-of-mouth, just being out here,” Ramirez said. “It was an unfortunate event, but it was a lot easier for us to appreciate Tyler.”
Lonnie Scott works as a seat attendant in the right-field pavilion of Angel Stadium. When the Angels returned after a stretch of road games on July 12, 11 days after Skaggs’ passing, he remembered a dark mood permeate through the ballpark. But with each out that pitchers Taylor Cole and Felix Pena recorded, who along with the rest of the team were wearing Skaggs’ No. 45 on the back of their jerseys, a feeling of electricity reverberated through the stands. When the team completed a no-hitter on the Mariners, Scott said it was “the high point” of the season.
“You could feel the emotion,” Scott said. “The actual baseball game at that point was irrelevant. It was what they were playing for.”
On Sept. 28, Fan Appreciation Night was held at Angel Stadium to offer tribute to the season. Dancing across the massive screen board behind the centerfield wall, a video featured what a fan might expect: towering home runs off Mike Trout’s bat, diving catches from Kole Calhoun, the sweet swing of Shohei Ohtani.
But there was a special section within the video dedicated to Skaggs, dedicated to 45, to the no-hitter and the teammates wearing his jersey – the taking off of those jerseys and the laying of them in a circle around the pitcher’s mound. The Angels eventually lost against the Houston Astros. But red fireworks nonetheless exploded in the night sky once the final out was recorded.
They were playing for Skaggs, for his family. And after the first time he touched the 45, Ramirez kept Skaggs with him, through the rest of the season.
“Ever since then, I give it a little tap and just say, ‘What’s up, Tyler,’” Ramirez said. “‘Be with me. Give me strength.’”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the Los Angeles Angels wearing Tyler Skaggs’ jersey at Fan Appreciation Night. The team wore his jersey at a home game on July 12.