MONTREAL - News of major league pitcher Tyler Skaggs' sudden passing hit Nate Thompson especially hard.
On Monday afternoon, the 27-year-old Los Angeles Angels' left-hander was found unresponsive in his Southlake, TX hotel room ahead of a matchup with the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington.
Skaggs and Thompson quickly became buddies after being introduced to one another through Thompson's cousin - a former police officer in Santa Monica, CA - while the veteran centerman was still a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Their first meeting came when the Lightning were on a West Coast road trip in Southern California.
"My cousin was pretty close with him. He'd known him since high school. My first impression was just a fun-loving guy. You could tell that he was a happy human being. He was happy meeting you. He was happy to hear about what you're doing," recalled Thompson, of the memorable encounter with the up-and-coming hurler who was in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization at the time. "You could tell he was an easy guy to be friends with, someone with an infectious attitude that you wanted to be around."
It was no surprise then that the pair kept in touch via text messages and social media in the years that followed.
Fortunately, they crossed paths again in 2014 when Thompson joined the Anaheim Ducks and Skaggs returned to his home state to join the Angels.
"It was just cool to see him come home and play. He was a hometown guy from Santa Monica. One night, we threw out the first pitch at Angel Stadium and we got to hang out. It had kind of come full circle a little bit. I saw him when he was a lot younger, he saw me when I was was playing in Tampa and kind of finding myself and my career. And then we were kind of both established guys playing our respective sports and doing well," explained Thompson, who was especially proud of Skaggs' progress in recent years. "I always kept track of him, what his record was, what his ERA was. He was definitely trending up and really coming into his own."
Likewise, Skaggs was tracking Thompson's work on the ice as well.
"The Ducks would have Angels Night and he would come watch us. They'd show him up there on the scoreboard. When he was coming, we'd exchange a few texts. He'd say, 'I'm coming tonight, you better show me something, a goal, a play.' It was something like that, just to mess with me," remembered Thompson with a laugh. "I would even hear from my cousin, 'Tyler is checking up on you, asking how you're doing.' He kind of knew my past and where I was headed. We went back and forth on Instagram mostly. He got married last summer, so did I. We talked about that a little bit. I'm still kind of in shock. It's heartbreaking. I don't really know how else to describe it. My heart goes out to his wife and family."
While the two pros might've only hung out "a handful of times," there's no denying the impression Skaggs made on Thompson.
The Angels' starter's personality was nothing short of exceptional, according to the Canadiens' forward.
"I can't say enough good things about him. He was a happy-go-lucky guy that wanted to talk about everything, hockey, sports. He wanted to talk about tattoos. I remember that about him. You could tell by the reaction around the sports world and his teammates that he was a guy who was loved. Everybody loved him. He was a unique guy. That was the experience that I had with him, too," praised Thompson. "I just think his overall attitude was special. He was an easy guy to love."
After Monday night's contest was postponed, the Angels and Rangers were back on the field on Tuesday to resume their series in the Lone Star State.
Before the first pitch, a moment of silence was observed in Skaggs' memory.
And on Wednesday evening, the Angels revealed a tribute patch players would be sporting for the rest of the year.