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OC Register: Whicker: Disbelief precedes grief over the news about Tyler Skaggs

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Around the tight world of baseball, they got pinged by their texts and their e-mails and their social media, early on Monday afternoon.

They looked at the screens and blinked.

Angels left-hander Tyler Skaggs, 27, was found dead in a Southlake, Texas hotel room.

They looked again, read again, shook their heads as if it were some exotic language, or maybe one of those word pyramids where they bury the sentence in a forest of letters.

Was there another Skaggs, another Tyler? Is this a fake account?

“That’s not right,” Eddie Bane said.

It isn’t. But it was painfully correct. Skaggs, from Santa Monica High, a tall and talented kid whom Angels fans watched from the beginning of his cocoon, is no longer with us. The details were nonexistent and, for now, irrelevant.

Skaggs got married to Carli last October. He was showing signs of becoming a high-rotation starter. Just last week he predicted the Angels’ inconsistent rotation would begin to catch up with the healthy offense and cause a “meteoric rise.”

His final pitch was in the fifth inning Saturday night, at home against Oakland, and it produced a groundout. It was also his 91st pitch, and Skaggs was removed for Trevor Cahill, and he was agitated in the first place because he’d been called for a balk, and then Matt Chapman homered off Cahill for a 3-0 Oakland lead. Skaggs rose and walked down the tunnel, his emotions unmasked, as usual.

“One thing about him,” said Marcel Lachemann, who has been advising Angel pitchers since the 1970s. “He didn’t like to come out of games.”

But Skaggs was coming on. He had ditched his slider and was throwing more four-seam fastballs and changeups. He had fought through two major injuries, including Tommy John surgery, and a trade to Arizona and then back to Anaheim. And, as Bane kept saying on Monday, he was 27.

“I watched that game,” said Bane, the scouting director who supervised that 2009 draft, now a special assistant with the Red Sox.

“They showed the dugout and there was Tyler, laughing and imitating the way Justin Upton was running. He just looked so comfortable and I thought, there you are. You’re a big-leaguer now, no question. It happens so fast.”

That’s 10 years, happening so fast. In 2009 Angels fans adorned the ballpark plaza with flowers and mementos for Nick Adenhart, who was taken by a runaway drunk driver. Fans began doing that on Monday for Skaggs.

How many wins and awards and dollars would Adenhart have by now? Those questions endure to this day and now will be asked in tandem.

“It’s hard,” Lachemann said. “As a coach or manager, you really don’t know what to say. You’re as shocked as anyone else. Nobody really wants to play when this happens. The baseball is pretty insignificant at this point.”

The fans felt proprietary. Skaggs went to Santa Monica. His mom Debbie was the softball coach there; his stepdad built a mound in the backyard. Debbie had pitched well in her day, and she pointed out things with every start.

As a sophomore, Skaggs pitched in a CIF championship game at Dodger Stadium, but lost 7-1 to Charter Oak. “We didn’t play well behind him that day,” said Kevin Brockway, Santa Monica’s coach at the time. “He was throwing 90-91 that day and he always had that curveball. He was skinny, but that curve was what they all liked.”

Dave Serrano, the Cal State Fullerton coach, liked it a lot and got a commitment from him. But as Skaggs got stronger and faster, the pro scouts converged.

Bane saw Skaggs throw slow, looping curves on his visit.

“I don’t like him,” he told Bo Hughes, the area scout.

“Go back again,” Hughes said, “and you’ll see the real curve.”

Bane did and did, and that was enough. The Angels had six of the first 80 picks, and Skaggs went 40th and signed for $1 million. Five of those six are in the big leagues, including 25th pick Mike Trout, who became Skaggs’ minor league roomie.

“Before Tyler filled out, he looked like he had the body of a skateboarder,” said Serrano, now the coach at Cal State Northridge. “But he always had that swag going.”

Skaggs was looking forward to another start in Dodger Stadium, on July 23 or 24. The Angels will be blindsided by such forfeited moments, such former opportunities, for years.

We all think baseball careers will end organically, either by performance or injury or, in rare cases, the player’s own choice. Now we’re consigned to remember Skaggs for what he could have been instead of what he was.

Monday wasn’t right.

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