Returning To Work After Teammate Death Is Angels' Best\Worst Option

The death of Tyler Skaggs rocks a tragedy-plagued franchise that has no other choice but to play out another sad season.

The Angels are returning to work on Tuesday, one day after the death of 27-year old pitcher Tyler Skaggs.

You may wonder: how?

I’m not a psychologist so can only speak from my own experience.

In January of 2014, days before my planned trip to cover the Sochi Olympic games in Russia, my mother was rushed (by my dad) to St. Jude’s Hospital in Fullerton.

She had been sick for some time, suffering from COPD, but death certainly did not seem imminent.

Her first day in the hospital, in fact, she sat up in her hospital bed and enjoyed one of her favorite meals: mac and cheese.

Suddenly, though, death beckoned and we began making plans to bring her home for final hospice care.

I sat in the waiting room, in between room visits, at the same hospital where I was born, wondering what to do.

I had a dying mother in one room and pre-Olympic stories due for my paper, the Los Angeles Times.

My mind raced as I hovered on the verge of an anxiety attack. Would my mom die “in time” for me to fly to Russia for the Winter Olympics?

What kind of insane thinking is that?

At what point do I tell the office I’m a “no go” for the Olympics? There was a precarious point of no departure.

Overcome with panic, I pulled my company-issued laptop out and finished writing a story on U.S. skiing star Ted Ligety.

Doctors and nurses buzzed around and I vaguely recall announcements on the intercom.

I tried to occupy and focus my brain on something other than my mom’s ticking clock. It (sort of) worked. She died the day after we brought her home.

I made my Aeroflot flight to Moscow and dealt with my mother’s death by working as hard as I could for 25 days.

One night, sick as a dog, midway through the Olympics, high on a mountain-top hotel in Putin’s paradise, as lonely as a human could be, I awoke in a cold sweat.

I had this terrible nightmare that I was in Russia, with a terrible case of bronchitis, and that my mom was dead.

Except it was all true.

It was finally time to cry.

Ok, but now what?

Pulling myself out of bed the next morning, for a scheduled Olympic ski event, was one of the toughest alarm clocks I've ever answered.

But, ultimately, I went to work.

There is no right or wrong answer.

The Angels organization, sadly, has been through this too many times before. It seems like only yesterday we were mourning the similarly tragic death of a young pitcher: Nick Adenhart.

Playing baseball today seems so pointless.

Yet, as my friend Mike Digiovanna noted in Tuesday’s L.A. Times, “the relentless nature and daily grind of a 162-game baseball season leaves little time or space for grieving, though.”

It’s not just baseball, of course. The relentless nature and daily grind of LIFE leaves little time or space for grieving.

Think of the regular people, every day, who can’t take time off to grieve the death of loved ones.

The Angels have 77 games left to play. They played baseball in 2009 after Adenhart, a star pitching prospect, was killed by a drunk driver.

For me, though, doing nothing was the worst option.

Back in college, after my friend's father died suddenly, I raced to his house and found him frantically pulling weeds in his front yard. I didn't understand then; I do now.

It’s the reason I’m typing this today instead of allowing my mind to wonder about the curse that has seemingly plagued the Angels organization.

Curses are silly nonsense, of course, but that didn’t stop me from writing a story about Angel hexes in 1999, recounting then the series of tragedies that had befallen the franchise.

In 1978, after the murder of Lyman Bostock, Angel executives Buzzie Bavasi and Red Patterson decided to take action.

“Red and I felt there must have been something, you use the word jinx, on the club," Bavasi told me at the time. “I didn’t believe anything until Lyman Bostock.”

Bavasi asked the monsignor at Patterson’s church to come out and bless Anaheim Stadium. Call it what it was: an exorcism.

There had been rumors, for years, that Anaheim Stadium had been build on ancient Indian burial grounds.

There was no proof that it was, or that it wasn’t.

I interviewed a chief for the Juaneno tribe that has inhabited Orange County for thousands of years.

He said he knew of no formal curse on the Angels but did not discount the idea that sacred ground could have been bulldozed in the excavation for the stadium completed in 1966.

“The possibility’s there,” the chief told me.

All of this talk today, ultimately, serves as distraction, which is not always bad.

“Life goes on” is a cliché but clichés are rooted in truth.

The Angels, today, are playing the Texas Rangers.

In some ways, it just doesn’t seem right.

But what other choices are there?

I still remember where I was, in 1978, when I heard about Bostock’s murder.

The games went on.

Mom died; I worked.

Digiovanna, in his Tuesday story in the L.A. Times, quoted former Angels pitcher Joe Saunders about how the team responded after Adenhart’s death in 2009.

“We as a team kind of thought that if we could win games, his family would maybe smile,” Saunders said. “Nick would smile looking down on us, and that’s kind of what our thought-process was.”

There are no good answers, only future sunrises, bills to be pay and obligations that must be fulfilled.

“Go to work,” was my response.

Sadly, “play ball” is the Angels’ best\worst option.

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