MIAMI - Mike Morin, then pitching for the Twins, boarded the team’s bus in Oakland last month for another afternoon ride to the ballpark. A day earlier, the team was off when Morin learned that his friend and former Angels teammate Tyler Skaggs had died in a Texas hotel room 12 days before his 32nd birthday.
Now Morin had to prepare for a game.
“I haven’t really had to deal with death in my personal life,” said Morin, who joined the Phillies in July. “My dad’s parents passed away and lived a good life. To have someone who you’re close with pass away so suddenly is weird. It was one of the most emotional days. When I got on the bus that day, I was just totally overwhelmed.”
Morin and Skaggs were the same age and played together for four years with the Angels. Morin’s fiance Amy and Skagg’s wife Carli are friends and Skaggs lived last season in Morin’s condo while Morin played in Seattle. They had an awesome friendship, Morin said.
It felt special for Morin this weekend when his uniform - and every other Phillies jersey - had a black patch on the sleeve with Skaggs’ No. 45. As part of baseball’s annual Player’s Weekend, every player was given the option of honoring Skaggs. The Phillies agreed.
“I think my favorite part about the 45 is that you don’t want people to forget,” It’s still fresh. It’s been a little while but he still continues to live on. It’s the message to continue to honor him and he continues to live on. I think it’s just really important that people don’t forget.”
A few hours after departing the team bus, Skaggs pitched that night for the Twins. He retired the two batters he faced to extinguish threat he inherited in the eighth inning. But two days later, he was hurting as Skagg’s death began to set in. He pitched in the eighth inning on July 4, allowed a grand slam, and did not pitch again for the Twins before being designated for assignment.
“There’s no manuscript or manual with how to deal with things like that,” Morin said. “You just try to do your best. One of the things that I’ll look back and really appreciate is how genuine the Twins were. They knew I was grieving. Everyone was going through a tough time. They said ‘Whatever you need.’”
Morin landed with the Phillies after being designated, joined the team in Pittsburgh, and noticed that they had an off day two days later in Detroit. It gave Morin a chance to attend Skaggs’ funeral, something he fretted about when he was with the Twins because the team had a game that day in New York.
“That was really special to be there,” Morin said.
He returned to Detroit on a red-eye flight to rejoin the Phillies. And his new team has seemed to give Morin a fresh start. He’s pitched in 14 games with the Phillies and 11 of his appearances have been scoreless. The Phillies will lean on their bullpen in the season’s final five weeks as they try to chase down one of the National League’s two wild-card spots. Morin can play a key role as he keeps Skaggs on his mind. For one weekend, he wore him on his sleeve.