This afternoon, the baseball world was stunned by the announcement that Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, 27, had died suddenly while the team was in Texas to play against the Rangers. Tonight’s game was cancelled, and while articulating the pain of the death of a 27 year-old man seemingly in peak physical condition was impossible, those affected by Skaggs’s death tried to reconcile their emotions throughout the afternoon, and will assuredly continue to do so in the coming days and weeks.
I won’t pretend that Tyler Skaggs had any specific sentimental value for me. I don’t have a favorite Tyler Skaggs moment. I couldn’t have picked Tyler Skaggs out of a police lineup. He was a decent Major League pitcher who spent time with teams in which I have no emotional attachment. For me, Tyler Skaggs was a minor background character in my life. And yet, as soon as I heard the news, I was immediately shook.
As I tried to make sense of my thoughts, I began to feel a little bit selfish. I had never met Tyler Skaggs, so how could I compare that grief to that of his wife, who had just lost a husband? To his parents, who had just lost a son? To his friends, who had just lost a young man who rightfully deserved another half-century of life?
My thoughts then quickly darted to how I reacted to the three deaths of active St. Louis Cardinals players in my lifetime. How I reacted to Darryl Kile at 13, to Josh Hancock at 18, to Oscar Taveras at 25. When you’re younger, it’s the idea that people you look up to could die. When you’re older, it’s the idea that people younger than you could be gone. And then I considered that I had never met any of these three people either. They were strangers. My “emotional connection” to them was that they played for a baseball team I like. Why did I feel like my pain could even be considered a fraction of what those who knew them felt?
The answer is pretty simple: while we don’t “know” the players we root for, they are still a part of our lives. Tyler Skaggs isn’t the only person to die today, nor even the only person to die today at an excruciatingly young age. But we don’t (mercifully, for our own well-being) have the emotional capacity to become invested in the lives of every single person on Earth. Tyler Skaggs had a place in our lives, and until today, I never once considered the possibility he would ever not be a part of it.
I don’t believe there is an acceptable or unacceptable level of grief for a moment like this. You don’t have to feel anything, but you can also cry your eyes out. Maybe today is the first you heard of Tyler Skaggs; maybe you’ve been a devoted fan for years or knew the man personally. There are plenty of people who deserve the same outpouring of affection that Tyler Skaggs has received and will continue to receive. But the grief of losing a loved one, even if that loved one existed outside of your immediate sphere, ought not be diminished.