Giancarlo Stanton knows from his own heart-wrenching experience what the Los Angeles Angels are feeling now, and will experience moving forward, after the death of a teammate during the season.
The slugger’s message to the Angels, playing with heavy hearts after the death of 27-year-old pitcher Tyler Skaggs, is to “hug each other, laugh, cry, lift the ones taking it extra hard up.”
Stanton, now playing for the New York Yankees, was still with the Miami Marlins three years ago when 24-year-old two-time All-Star pitcher José Fernández was killed in a boating crash late that season.
Los Angeles returned to the field with an emotional 9-4 victory over the Rangers on Tuesday night, a day after Skaggs was discovered unresponsive in his hotel room in Texas. No cause of death has been released.
“You’re going to wonder why all of this is happening, is it real, why are u suiting up to play a game that seems irrelevant,” Stanton wrote in an Instagram post. “Some Anger will ensue while u have to grieve in a fish bowl. A lot will go through your mind. So stay together through that.”
Stanton said the Angels need to understand how important their strength is for Skaggs’ family, as well as their fans and “anyone looking for the power to overcoming something.”
Justin Bour, a first-year Angel who had a two-run single in his only at-bat Tuesday, was also with the Marlins in 2016.
“I know how tough it’s going to be every single day,” Bour said after the game. “And it takes a really long time for it to sink in. And it still, sometimes it just doesn’t.”
Texas catcher Jeff Mathis also played for the Marlins in 2016 and with Los Angeles in 2009 when 22-year-old Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver after only his fourth game in the big leagues.
“It was almost like we were playing that season for him,” Mathis said about the 2009 Angels. “Obviously, it was something very dear to us to honor him in just the best way we could. Every time we stepped on that field that was part of the reason that we played the way we played.”
The Angels won the AL West in 2009. They swept Boston in the AL Division Series before losing the AL Championship Series in six games to the New York Yankees.
Angels owner Arte Moreno described it “like a punch in the heart” when general manager Billy Eppler called him Monday with the news about Skaggs. That brought back memories of Adenhart’s death 10 years ago.
“The team is such a family, and when you take a piece away from the family, there’s always a hole,” Moreno said Tuesday after traveling to Texas to join his grieving team.
Rangers pitcher Jesse Chavez spent 2017 with the Angels, and before Tuesday’s game, he ran around the outfield to greet and hug former teammates such as Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun.
“It’s a little bit harder, especially when you’re playing a team that you played with him on,” Chavez said somberly. “He was a kid, plain and simple.”
Angels manager Brad Ausmus and Seattle manager Scott Servais both played for the Astros, though they were teammates at different times in Houston with Darryl Kile, who in June 2002 with the St. Louis Cardinals died in a Chicago hotel room during a road trip. Kile was 33.
Current Angels first baseman Albert Pujols was on that Cardinals team with Kile.
Servais, an assistant GM for the Angels when they reacquired Skaggs after the 2013 season, said playing after a tragedy isn’t easy but provides some therapy by being back on the field.
“It’s really hard to get through,” Servais said. “You have to lean on each other. That’s what you really have to do.”
Servais was among the managers, some of whom had been through similar situations, who reached out to Ausmus.
“To a man, it’s the same advice, and that is there’s no handbook for this,” Ausmus said. “Just kind of got to go with your honest feelings. If you do that, I think then you’re not going to be wrong.”
Ausmus, who broke down in tears while talking about Skaggs, described the feeling as identical to when Kile died.
“Once the game starts it actually is a refuge because it takes your mind off, it distracts you for a while,” Ausmus said. “When you go back to your hotel room, you’re reminded of reality. … I know it gets easier, but it’s difficult.”
Asked about the challenge of managing under such circumstances, instead of playing like he was after Kile’s death, Ausmus said everybody feels a tremendous loss but understands that life and the baseball season have to go on.
“It’ll move forward at different paces for different guys, but this is just a reminder that professional athlete or not, we’re all human and it can strike just the same,” Ausmus said. “But as far as wearing the manager hat, I’m just wearing a hat right now. I’m just wearing an Angel hat.”
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