This MLB Pitcher Gets It From His Mama
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Tyler Skaggs has several people to thank for his success, especially his mother.
By Tal Pinchevsky
These aren’t the typical mom texts about eating right and your love life. Amid a breakout season on the mound for the Los Angeles Angels, Tyler Skaggs’ phone blows up with weekly missives about his pitching mechanics and emotional preparation. And he reviews them carefully, because on the other end is not just his mother, but also a legendary softball coach.
“She’s seen me pitch more than anybody in the whole world, so she knows exactly what I need to do,” Skaggs says. And now that he’s in the big leagues? “She’s not as intense, but she still has that fire.”
He kept getting better, and now we’re seeing him blossom. The caveat is the injuries.
Kyle Glaser, Baseball America
While Skaggs, 27, has battled through injury this year, he has set career bests across the board — including eight wins and a 3.34 ERA through his first 20 starts. On the road to becoming a Southern California sports institution, he has some catching up to do. “If you grew up in Santa Monica, you knew who my mom is,” Skaggs says.
Santa Monica, the iconic beachfront city in Los Angeles County, is known for its picturesque pier, postcard-worthy views of the Pacific and Debbie Skaggs’ softball program. A catcher at California State University, Northridge, Debbie has spent more than three decades mentoring the softball team at Santa Monica High School to a slew of local league titles and a pair of Southern California championships.
Debbie wasn’t the only familial influence on the diamond. His father, Darrell Skaggs, was a deadeye-hitting high school shortstop, and his stepfather, Dan Ramos, played in college and has helped with his wife’s softball team. But Tyler was a constant presence at his mother’s games and practices, playing catch, shagging balls and taking any cues he could from a collection of formidable female athletes. “He actually formed relationships with a lot of my players,” Debbie, 55, says as she navigates freeway traffic on the 405 en route to Angel Stadium in Orange County.
There were downsides, though. “I could never slack off,” Skaggs says. “She knew all the teachers.”
The younger Skaggs first turned heads as a high school senior when he participated in Area Code, a five-day showcase featuring some of the best young baseball talent in America. By the time the Angels grabbed him in the first round of the 2009 draft, Skaggs was considered a potential future ace on a team whose rotation was already built around veterans. But there was some unfinished business in Santa Monica.
He promised his mother’s players that he would buy them championship rings if they ever won a California Interscholastic Federation Southern California championship. So when the team earned its big title in 2010, his phone lit up with the players’ texts demanding he dip into his $1 million signing bonus for rings. “He was true to his word,” confirms Debbie Skaggs.
Her son, who had been shipped to the Diamondbacks system, by then was on a fast ascent through the minor leagues. At age 19, Skaggs appeared in the All-Star Futures Game. At age 21, he allowed just two runs in six-and-two-thirds innings to earn a 99-pitch gem of a win in his MLB debut in Arizona. The “future star” tag stayed with him when he was traded back to the Angels in 2013. (You get one guess of who he called first when he got the news he’d be returning to SoCal.) But just eight months later, Skaggs was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery on an elbow ligament, a procedure that would cost him two years of his career.
His numbers have been middling as he’s battled back from surgery and faced other maladies, such as last year’s oblique strain. Healthy and with his confidence at an all-time high, the 6-foot-4 hurler came out firing this season, allowing just three combined runs in his first three starts, all Angels wins. By the time he blazed through June with 36 strikeouts and just three earned runs over five starts, Skaggs was earning All-Star consideration. But injuries continue to nag him, and he’s been on and off the disabled list. Skaggs was sixth in the American League in ERA in early August — before allowing 10 runs in a single start and returning to the DL with a groin strain.
“The biggest thing with Tyler is you’ve seen the change-up come a long way. He always had that big breaking curveball that scouts really liked. For him it was going to be about that third pitch and how effective he can get it,” says Kyle Glaser, a national writer at Baseball America. “He kept getting better, and now we’re seeing him blossom. The caveat is the injuries.”
Though the Angels remain well back of playoff contention this year, Skaggs has the rare chance to compete for a team he grew up watching. Skaggs even attended Game 6 of the 2002 World Series, the year the Angels captured their lone championship.
The family’s hardball bond began earlier, when Tyler was just 7. Divorced from Tyler’s biological father and dating Ramos, Debbie took her son and began making the short walk to the beach near their Santa Monica home, where they engaged in a spirited catch. That regular toss along the beach between mother and son would go on for years. Two decades after that routine began, the mother-son bonding now involves Debbie battling freeway traffic to watch her son pitch in front of tens of thousands of screaming fans. But, as ever, she’s still ready to offer advice when he’s done.
- Tal Pinchevsky, OZY Author Contact Tal Pinchevsky