CEDAR RAPIDS – Nine years ago, Don and Robin Grawe opened their northeast-side home to Cedar Rapids Kernels players for the first time.
They were empty nesters whose grown children had played ball. As fate would have it, they attended the same church as Kernels housing coordinator Lanny Peterson, and he’d put a sort of hard sell on them, persuading them to help him out.
The Grawes ended up being assigned two players that 2010 season who lived in their basement: Mike Trout and Tyler Skaggs. “I had no idea who they were,” Don Grawe said Wednesday. “I hadn’t Googled them or anything until the night (before) they came from spring training to meet their host parents. It was like ‘OK, I’m looking for this number and this number: Trout and Skaggs.’”
Both eventually made it to the big leagues.
Trout, of course, is the best player in the game, a generational talent. Skaggs overcame two trades and Tommy John surgery on his elbow to pitch a full season for the first time in 2018, again a teammate of Trout’s with the Los Angeles Angels.
Skaggs unexpectedly died Monday at the age of 27, found unresponsive in his hotel room in suburban Dallas, where the Angels were to begin a series against the Texas Rangers. The cause of his death is undetermined, though suicide and foul play have been ruled out.
The Kernels held a moment of silence for Skaggs before Thursday’s Fourth of July game against Burlington at Veterans Memorial Stadium. Cedar Rapids won, 4-2 on the strength of a three-run Jared Akins home run and seven strong one-hit shutout innings from starting pitcher Luis Rijo.
Skaggs’ death has shocked everyone in the extended baseball community, including those here who remembered Skaggs as a lanky and laid-back 18-year-old prospect from the beaches of Southern California. It’s all so eerily reminiscent of the death of former Angels and Kernels pitcher Nick Adenhart, who was killed in 2009 in a traffic accident.
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Just four days ago the Kernels had officially feted the 2019 winners of the Nick Adenhart Memorial Scholarship. Funded via a trust from Adenhart’s parents, one male and one female senior high-school student-athlete from the area are annually chosen by the Kernels for $1,000 that goes toward each of their their college educations.
“The only word that we can use right now is ‘stunned,’” Don Grawe said. “I’m not even sure it has completely sunk in, yet. We can’t believe we are not going to see him again. One of our kids texted me yesterday and simply said ‘This sucks,’ and then ‘Why?’ You have faith that there is a plan from God somewhere, somehow.”
Relationships aren’t always continued once a player leaves Cedar Rapids, but with the Grawes and their 2010 tenants, it it’s a completely different story. Trout and Skaggs have stayed in touch, with Don Grawe saying he and his wife considering their respective parents to be good friends.
The Grawes even traveled to California in December to be at Tyler Skaggs’ wedding. They made it a point to see Trout and Skaggs at least once a season.
That opportunity this season came just a week and a half ago when the Angels played at St. Louis.
“Went to the Saturday game with some friends of ours,” Don Grawe said. “We didn’t get to spend any appreciable time with Tyler. It was basically just ‘Hi, how are you doing?’ Robin just needs to get her hug and her acknowledgement. That’s all she needed to get.”
It turned out to be a final hug.
“Just a great kid,” Don Grawe said. “All of the things you are hearing now about him … He was the same 18-year-old kid who was bopping up and down our steps nine years ago. Just good people. He and Mike came from great families, and what you see is what you get.
“Tyler had a quirky sense of humor. We had the quintessential California kid staying with the quintessential New Jersey kid and all the fun that goes with that. Don’t doubt any of the great things that are being said about Tyler.”
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The Kernels (47-37, 8-6) won for the fourth straight time. Gilberto Celestino added a run-scoring triple in the eighth.
The teams play again Friday night at 6:35.
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