Inspired by Teixeira, Mesa prepped to play in Division II World Series
On the wall of the Tex Tolman Clubhouse at Bergman Field all season has been a photo of AirHogs Stadium in Grand Prairie, Texas.
Since last spring, the Colorado Mesa baseball players set a goal to see that stadium, home of this year’s NCAA Division II World Series, for themselves.
On March 4, all that changed.
“When Ryan (Teixeira) first passed, we had a team meeting in the clubhouse and we put Ryan’s (locker nameplate) right next to the picture of AirHogs Stadium. We look at it every single day when we look at the practice plan before we come out (to practice),” redshirt sophomore outfielder Bligh Madris said. “It reminds us what we’re working toward and who we’re doing it for.
“There’s a lot of other people that want us to win this, that are rooting for us, and we know he’s looking down on us every single day.”
Teixeira, who died March 4 from complications of acute myeloid leukemia after receiving a bone marrow transplant from his younger brother, Aaron, was a unifying figure even before his death. He was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma his senior year in high school and had beaten that cancer after having a large tumor removed from his right thigh. He joined the Mavericks in January 2016 and slowly built his strength, hoping to play this season.
He became ill in the fall, unable to shake a cold he caught on the Mavericks’ trip to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where they served as buddies for the Grand Junction Challenger special-needs baseball team at the Little League World Series.
He was flown back to the UCLA Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with leukemia.
Teixeira’s personality and outlook on life made him instantly popular with his teammates, who wear “17Strong” wristbands and have Teixeira’s number 17 and initials, some with a cross, written on the front of their caps.
The second-ranked Mavericks (48-10) play Quincy University (37-21) at 6 tonight (MDT) in the final first-round game of the Division II World Series. The game will be streamed live on ncaa.com, with a link also posted at cmumavericks.com.
Fans attending the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series can watch the Mavericks’ game between games on the new video board at Suplizio Field.
CMU coach Chris Hanks was quick to acknowledge the effect Teixeira had on the Mavericks.
“Ryan changed everybody’s perspective on things,” Hanks said before the Mavs left for Grand Prairie. “At the end of the day this is a game. Yeah, we want to win and everybody wants to get four hits or strike out everybody, but it’s a game. Everybody had a front-row seat to Ryan’s experience and the toughness he showed. There’s nothing we can do to match that except play in a manner that would make Ryan really happy.”
When Teixeira’s conditioned first worsened, his best friend, Garrett Ball, flew home. Ball told Teixeira’s family he wanted to do something to help Ryan, and they told him the best thing he could do was return to Grand Junction and win, telling him that was what Ryan wanted more than anything.
So the Mavericks won — a school-record 22 straight games, clinching a sixth straight RMAC regular-season title, then went 4-0 in the conference tournament to secure the No. 2 seed in the South Central Regional tournament. They went 4-0 there, too, claiming one of eight spots in the Division II World Series.
Ball and Teixeira played high school baseball together, and Teixeira followed him to CMU. When it was apparent he wouldn’t play this season, Ball wore Teixeira’s number, and delivered a moving tribute the day after his death, when the Mavericks honored Teixeira. Ball placed his jersey at third base, and the Mavericks started the game without a third baseman — Teixeira was listed as the starter.
After the first pitch, Ball took his place at third base, putting on his jersey through tears, then, in the bottom of the first inning, Ball lined a single over the spot where Teixeira’s jersey had lain.
Ball, who was the Mavs’ designated hitter most of the season, broke his left leg earlier this season sliding into second base, but the Mavericks took him to Grand Prairie as one of their inactive players.
Dedicating their season to their deceased teammate wasn’t a source of pressure, senior catcher Kyle Serrano said.
“We do have a lot on our shoulders,” he said. “We’re playing for a lot and there’s pressure. We’re not just playing for ourselves, we’re playing for Ryan, but you can’t look at it that way. The only things we can ultimately do is play as hard as we can, and play as Ryan would. If we leave everything on the field and give 100 percent, play our hardest like he would have, there’s nothing we can look back on. That’s the way we’re approaching it.”
Madris, who this past week was selected the South Central Region player of the year by the American Baseball Coaches Association, the National College Baseball Writers Association and the D2 Conference Commissioners Association, said Teixeira is rarely out of the Mavs’ thoughts.
“The whole week (during regionals) after every game we pointed to the sky and thanked God and thanked Ryan for looking over us and flying over us while we were playing. We knew he was with us. We just want to do it for him, for his family, and we want to do it for us. You can’t write a script like this. We just have to finish it. It just adds to our drive, our motivation.
“I wouldn’t wish this upon any team at all. … You just have to go out with the right mindset and know there’s bigger and better things out there. You have to play for more than yourself, more than your team. He’s watching over us and he’d want the best for us. That’s what we tell our team every day in the huddle, play hard like Ryan would.”
All-Region: Sophomore pitcher Kyle Leahy, who is slated to start tonight, joined Madris on all three outlets’ all-region first team and is the ABCA regional pitcher of the year. Leahy also received the NCAA Elite 90 award at the World Series banquet Friday, which goes to the player in the national tournament with the highest overall grade-point average. Leahy has a 4.0 GPA in kinesiology.
Serrano made the ABCA all-region first team and the second team on the D2CCA squad. Sophomore pitcher JR McDermott made the D2CCA second team, and senior left fielder PJ Gonzalez made the ABCA second team.