Trevor Plouffe was on a run near his family’s home in Calabasas, Calif. on Monday. He had a phone in a pocket and started to receive notices of texts and calls.
The notices continued and Plouffe grabbed his phone as a call was coming in. “It was Mike Moustakas, and he was with [Ryan] Braun,’’ Plouffe said.
Moustakas and Braun are teammates with Milwaukee. The Brewers were playing in Cincinnati. Plouffe, 33, and Braun, 35, have been friends for two decades, since meeting as young star athletes in nearby areas of the San Fernando Valley. Plouffe, Braun and Moustakas worked out together in the offseason at Pepperdine University.
The massive population of Los Angeles and Orange Counties produces enormous numbers of baseball prospects and big leaguers, yet somehow these players seem to have a connection.
“That’s true,’’ Plouffe said. “It’s a huge area, but baseball shrinks it.’’
Moustakas and Braun had heard distressing news on Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, and they were going to their best source – Skaggs’ very close friend Plouffe – for confirmation.
“I answered the call and Moose said, ‘Trevor … what happened with Tyler?’ ‘’ Plouffe said. “I didn’t know what he was talking about. I said, ‘Tyler? Skaggs?’
“And Braun was in the background, and they both said, ‘Yes,’ and then told me there was a report that Tyler had died in Texas.
“I went to my knees. I looked at my phone and, by then, the Angels had announced Tyler’s death.’’
This conversation took place two days later, as Plouffe was dropping 4-year-old son Teddy at a preschool. Isla, 1½, was also in the car and there was something she was not pleased with.
“Give me a minute here,’’ Plouffe said, and the phone went quiet for a while.
He came back and said, “OK, we’re good. Isla’s happy now.’’
Plouffe turned 18 on June 15, 2004, eight days after being drafted 20th overall by the Twins. He went to Elizabethton, Tenn. to start a pro career. The Twins selected him as an infielder, although there was also his 12-2 record with an 0.86 ERA in pitching Crespi Carmelite High School to a section championship in Southern California.
The pro career that included 2,810 of his 2,933 big-league at-bats with the Twins (2010-2016) came to an end this year in late March. He was in spring training for a month as an invitee with the Phillies. On March 21, the Phillies said he wasn’t going to make the big-league club, although they had a spot for him with Class AAA Lehigh Valley.
He went home to California, instead, to be available to drop off Teddy at preschool and make Isla happy again.
“Once the Phillies let me go, several other teams called -- but always with the understanding that I’d have to start in Triple A,’’ Plouffe said. “I did the Triple A thing last year. I wasn’t interested.’’
So you’re done? “Playing?’’ Plouffe said. “Yeah, I’m done. I’m a dad and husband.’’
And a friend -- and on Monday, he found himself stupefied in the middle of a run, looking at his phone, confirming that Tyler Skaggs had died at 27.
There was an autopsy, and the official cause of death will be revealed in time, but what will continue to hurt for Plouffe is that Skaggs is gone – the first time in his life that Plouffe has lost such a close friend in his age group.
“Braun and I had the same agent in Nez Balelo,’’ Plouffe said. “I was living in Malibu and we were able to find a place to work out at Pepperdine [University]. They had an old gym with a workout room that wasn’t being used by anyone.
"We called it The Dungeon. It was tiny and only a few guys at a time could be in there. Nez was sending his clients there, and we were using the workout room in shifts. Tyler started showing up, but he was a younger guy, so we put him in the second shift.
“He was such a great kid, though. He could read a room better than anyone I know. He would walk in and get everyone pumped up ... 'This is going to be the best workout ever.’
“Braun and I finally said, ‘OK, Tyler, you’re in the first group.’ And from there, we spent more time together,’’
Plouffe and his wife Olivia had Teddy and Isla, and Skaggs married Carli during this last offseason. “Tyler’s death hurts all of us, but Carli’s the one that matters the most in this,’’ Plouffe said. “She’s such a sweetheart.’’
Phil Hughes, the former Twins pitcher, was another close friend to Skaggs. “Tyler was looking to add a cutter, and Phil knew as much about that pitch as anyone,’’ Plouffe said. “He got in touch with Phil and the friendship developed.
‘“Tyler was that way. If you met him, 10 minutes later you were friends.’’
On Monday night, I was watching the MLB Network and there were phone interviews with baseball people connected with Skaggs. One of those was Eddie Bane, who was running the draft for the Angels in 2009.
The Angels had three picks in the top 40 and Eddie did OK with those picks: outfielder Randal Grichuk at No. 24, outfielder Mike Trout at No. 25 and pitcher Skaggs at No. 40.
Grichuk was traded to St. Louis after the 2013 season and has become a solid big-leaguer. Mike Trout is Mickey Mantle, without switch-hitting. And Skaggs, traded to Arizona and then brought back to Anaheim, overcame missing the 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery to become an Angels starter – with a chance to keep getting better at 27.
“We had a first-round grade on Tyler in that draft,’’ Bane said. “We had Grichuk and Trout higher, so we went with them and were excited that Tyler still was there at 40.’’
Normally, this time of a baseball season, when you hear Eddie Bane’s voice, it’s because you're calling to discuss July 4, 1973 – the night Bane, the 5-foot-9 lefthander directly out of Arizona State, filled Met Stadium for his major league debut.
This time, Bane was being asked about the death of Skaggs, a 6-foot-4 lefthander that he had brought into professional baseball 36 years later.
“Hard stuff to talk about,’’ Bane responded later in a text. “27 and a good person.’’