Waldner: Tyler Skaggs’ high school coach remembers the ‘heart of a lion’

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first_imgRob Duron looked at the screen on his cell phone in disbelief.The text message delivered the shocking news of Tyler Skaggs’ death. It was news he could not believe, did not want to believe.Duron coached Skaggs when the pitching prodigy who grew up to become the leader in the Angels starting rotation was a junior and senior at Santa Monica High.“I thought it was a really, really bad joke,” he said. “Then my kids texted me and I knew it was the truth.” Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error “I know they’ll run something about him,” he said. “I do not want to see it. There is not anything I can gain from watching.”The feeling is echoed by many in the wake of the loss of a vibrant young man a dozen days before his 28th birthday.Skaggs’ early years in the majors were rocky, courtesy of injuries and youth coupled with high expectations of too much, too soon.The belief in Anaheim was the best was about to come, that he could be an elite starter for years.The fact that he was maturing, displaying growing confidence on the mound as well as during several quiet conversations in the clubhouse, a confidence that was infectious with the Angels staff, is so unimportant now.“It’s hard,” Duron said. “It hit hard.”The pain has been shared.“A lot of coaches have called me to talk about Tyler,” he said. “That’s nice.”Rather than the current story, he prefers to think of the teenager he coached.“Tyler had the heart of a lion,” he said. “He was a great kid who worked his tail off.”Careful not to stress a young arm, Duron had a pitch count for Skaggs.“Tyler understood what I was doing,” he said. “There never were any rants from him. You did not have to worry about him.“He did what was expected. If it was picking up the helmets after a game, he did it without complaining or expecting special treatment because he was the star all the scouts were coming to watch.”A tall lefty lighting up radar guns drew crowds.“The line of scouts was so long it looked like there was a parade,” Duron said. “Tommy Lasorda came to watch a game.“It was a circus. I’d have him throw in the outfield before games so he could get away from everyone. We’d talk there where nobody could hear us. I told him, ‘This is your sanctuary.’“Nick Nolte came to a game. The coach of the other team went over to shake his hand. During the game.”He chuckled at the memory.“College coaches were calling me all the time,” he said. “I’m everyone’s best friend. I told someone, ‘Next year, nobody is calling me.’ ”Duron understood the difference between an athlete with raw talent and one with an abundance of talent plus the special ability to do something with it.“I do not know for sure, but I think Tyler threw in the mid to upper 80s as a 7th grader,” he said. “He touched 90-91 for me. You knew he could pitch in the majors. I didn’t need to coach him. He didn’t need me.”During those conversations in the Angels clubhouse, Skaggs made it clear he liked and appreciated his coach. When he returned to visit Santa Monica High, he would go out of his way to find Duron, who no longer was coaching. They would talk, generally about things other than baseball.Thinking back 11-12 years, more memories bubble to the surface.Remember, we are talking about a teenager who was 16 and 17 and, as you may remember or have noticed, teenagers are not always focused.Skaggs was no different. He was caught on his cell phone one day during practice. This earned him some extra running. He did not complain.Duron would call him “Tall And Skinny” and “Pole.”“He’d give me his ‘you’re goofy’ look,” Duron said.The pressure of everyone watching did not prevent Skaggs from enjoying baseball.“One game, he made a nice play, sliding on his knee to get to the ball and then making a good throw to get the runner,” Duron said. “He comes into the dugout and says to me, ‘Pretty sweet, huh, coach?’“He was a special athlete who could have been great in football, volleyball or basketball. He played first base for us when he was not pitching. He saved us a lot with his glove.”So it was that Rob Duron, who had avoided speaking publicly, was gracious and opened a small window for us to see Tyler Skaggs, a young man we were just getting to know.Clearing out the mini-notebook:Thumbs up — Congratulations to the Clippers for landing both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Lawrence Frank should clear a spot in his office for the NBA Executive of the Year trophy. A new award, Consultant of the Year should go to Jerry West, much to the chagrin of Lakers fans still groaning that West, forever Mr. Lakers in their eyes, works for the Clippers. …Ouch — Alert reader John Warner, a former Hawthorne High baseball player, correctly points out Byron Scott played his prep basketball at Morningside High, not rival Inglewood, as was incorrectly written here. …Bottom line — About Colin Kaepernick’s outrage about the Betsy Ross flag: He needs to cool his jets. This comes from an observer who has defended his right to protest.Mike Waldner can be reached at [email protected]center_img When the message came from family, he could not deny it.More than words could, the empty look in his eyes expressed the shock, the hurt, the emptiness he still feels.“I did not keep any of the texts I got concerning his death,” Duron said.“I cannot watch SportsCenter.”He was speaking softly, slowly, firmly.last_img

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