One pitcher’s death and another’s murderous bereavement

2019-08-30 SkaggsBivens

The Angels’ Tyler Skaggs’s (left) painkiller-related death raises a suspicion or three; murder robbed Rays minor league reliever Blake Bivens (right) of his wife, infant son, and mother-in-law. Bivens should be just as worthy of our sympathy and perhaps a degree or three more . . .

Fetanyl is a synthetic pain reliever usually though not exclusively administered for relief in cancer patients. Oxycodone, perhaps the most infamous among opioid pain relievers, is prescribed normally for those who need long-term, around-the-clock pain relief.

The Tarrant County (Texas) medical examiner says both plus alcohol were in Tyler Skaggs’s system the night he died unexpectedly on 1 July. “[A]lcohol, fentanyl and oxycodone intoxication with terminal aspiration of gastric contents,” the medical examiner’s report is quoted as saying.

That clinical language translates to the 27-year-old Angels’ lefthander vomiting and choking on it under the influence in his sleep.

Skaggs’s death provoked a hurricane of grief around baseball that seemed exacerbated when the Rangers, whom the Angels were in town to play, not only canceled that night’s game out of respect to the Angels but put Skaggs’s uniform number, 45, in the Angels’ uniform lettering style, behind the pitching rubber the following night, before the Angels beat them 9-4.

And when the Angels returned home from that road trip, they kicked off their first homestand since Skaggs’s death with a staggering 13-0 combined no-hitter against the Mariners that electrified its own sport and others, from Taylor Cole pitching two and Felix Pena pitching the final seven innings to Mike Trout himself accounting for about half the Angels’ destruction, his share only beginning with a two-run homer into the Angel Stadium center field rocks in the bottom of the first.

Assorted players around baseball have scratched their own little tributes to Skaggs since, including many scrawling his number 45 onto their game hats. The sole admirable sight on the otherwise execrable black (for visiting teams) and white (for home teams) Players’ Weekend uniforms—which made the games resemble contests between Mad‘s memorably “Spy vs. Spy” strips—was the circular black patch with 45 in white in the middle on every sleeve.

We’ll know soon enough, I’m very certain, as to just why Skaggs needed to take fetanyl and oxycodone. There’s already an ugly rumour that an Angels employee may have had a hand in Skaggs’s death; Los Angeles Times sports editor Bill Shaikin says MLB will investigate the claim. And Skaggs’s family has hired a Texas attorney to investigate for themselves.

Unless there was foul play of the type Tarrant County’s police couldn’t determine, or unless Skaggs suffered a medical condition about which none seems to have been aware, his is only slightly less senseless a death than what was done to the family of Rays minor league relief pitcher Blake Bivens.

Bivens’s wife, Emily; their year-old son, Cullen; and, his mother-in-law, Joan Jefferson Bernard, were shot to death Tuesday morning. Emily and Cullen Bivens were found dead inside Mrs. Bernard’s Keeling, Virginia home; Mrs. Bernard was found dead in the driveway. Bivens’s teenage brother-in-law, Matthew Bernard, is in custody charged with the crimes.

A neighbour told police Bernard came to her door and punched her in the arm before she heard subsequent gunshots at Mrs. Bernard’s home. Investigators found shell casings from a 30-30 rifle near the victims’ bodies; Bernard was arrested naked and trembling up the road after being found in a nearby wooded area. He was jogging in a circle and refused to stop at first even despite being pepper-sprayed by one officer; when he tried to choke another neighbour, police finally subdued the naked Bernard.

“My life as I knew it was destroyed,” said Bivens, a righthanded pitcher with a 4-0 won-lost record and a 3.98 earned run average but a proneness to walks for the Montgomery Biscuits (AA) this season, in an Instagram post Thursday. “The pain my family and I feel is unbearable and cannot be put into words.”

The stricken reliever tried anyway.

He called his wife the one “who made me into the man I am today and you loved me with all of my flaws.” He said of his little son, “I can’t breathe without you here. I finally understood what love was when you were born and I would have done anything for you.” And, he said of his mother-in-law, “You loved your family more than anyone I’ve ever seen. You raised the most wonderful girl in the world. I’m so glad y’all are still together.”

It says nothing against Blake Bivens that an established major league pitcher freshly married and unexpectedly dead at 27 provoked a wider, deeper choke of game-wide grief than a six-year minor league pitcher having not even a single cup of major league coffee whose wife, infant child, and mother-in-law were murdered.

But it’s impossible not to notice that Skaggs left a loving wife behind while Bivens was robbed grotesquely of his. Both are to mourn a little more deeply.