For the four years Ryan Teixeira has been on the Arroyo Grande High varsity baseball team, there has been only one hat.
Dirty, dusty, worn and weary, it clung to his recently shaved head as he sat in the visiting dugout of Arroyo Grande’s P.O.V.E. Field on Wednesday — the day before he’d recite the school’s alma mater in front of his fellow seniors at graduation.
When the conversation shifted from his 2015 Tribune County Player of the Year-winning season to the rare disease and softball-sized tumor that cut it short, Teixeira adjusted the shapeless cap over the foreign haircut as his crisp blue eyes stared out at the diamond he called home since 2012.
“The whole cancer thing,” he began, “it was an interesting situation. I can’t remember when or what game that I realized I was going to have to get out, but in my mind, I never was going to stop playing.”
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Teixeira was diagnosed with Stage 1 Ewing sarcoma midway through his senior campaign, and in his desire to finish his high school career on a high note in the inaugural PAC 8 season, doctors granted his wish and agreed to allow him to play out the regular season.
“I talked to them and said we’re on the verge of history, if you will, being the first team to win a PAC 8 title; you can’t take me away from this game,” said Teixeira, who in November signed a National Letter of Intent to play for Division II power Colorado Mesa. “They wanted to think more long term about playing in college, and I said OK, but just let me get through the rest of this season. Just let me get through the league season.”
He was the unquestioned leader of the PAC 8-champion Eagles, hitting .377 with 18 RBI and two home runs while also manning shortstop for a squad that went 12-2 in league and allowed only 2.7 runs per game in those contests.
When he was finally forced from the lineup — the pain in his upper right leg too difficult to bear — the team learned just how much he meant in the dugout, too.
“I don’t think I realized what he meant off the field until we went down south and when things went bad, there was no one there to right the ship,” said coach Brad Lachemann after the Teixeira-less Eagles lost 15-1 in the second round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 playoffs. “He made the team better than we probably were just by being with us.”
Now more than a month into chemotherapy, Teixeira doesn’t plan on letting cancer slow him down.
“There’s two ways you go about this: You tuck your tail between your legs and let it get you down — and that could be easy — but I’m going about this the other way,” he said. “I’m going at this full force. Bring it on, because I know each step that I take is just closer to getting me better.
“I’ve accepted it and I understand what’s going on, and as bad as it stinks, I don’t look at it like that. I’m going to be better and I’m going to be stronger when I’m all done with this.”
More than just a hamstring pull
There are two things Teixeira remembers about a 12-6 loss at Lompoc in the third game of the season.
“Gosh, we got our butt kicked,” he said with a grimace.
It was also the first time he felt serious discomfort in his inner thigh and noticed a growing bump.
Believing it to be lingering problems from a hamstring pull his freshman year, he underwent physical therapy at Moscardi Physical Therapy in Pismo Beach.
It didn’t take long for Louis Moscardi to realize this wasn’t the usual muscle injury.
“He came with a hamstring strain diagnosis but … in my initial evaluation, I saw things didn’t add up clinically to a hamstring strain,” Moscardi said. “I’ve been in physical therapy for 13 years, so I can tell when something feels normal or something feels abnormal. My initial evaluation was maybe some deep scar tissue, but I knew something was wrong, and being so close to the lymph nodes, we needed to get an MRI to start to rule things out.”
An MRI revealed a mass the size of a grapefruit and quickly thereafter, Teixeira was talking with doctors at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at the same time his baseball team competed in the Don Lugo tournament in Chino.
“I have two young girls as well and, honestly, that’s what drove me,” Moscardi said. “If there’s something not right and I wait, it can, unfortunately, be terminal. I thought if there’s a tumor and he potentially loses his leg, that would be bad, but it could save his life.”
The haste to have an MRI led to doctors finding the tumor in its earliest stage.
According to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Ewing sarcoma is a rare tumor that forms in bone or soft tissue. About 200 young adults or children in the United States are diagnosed with it each year. Ewing sarcoma is either localized to the area it originated or metastatic — meaning it has spread to other parts of the body and is more difficult to cure.
Teixeira said his tumor is localized in an adductor muscle in his groin, which grew more and more intolerable as he bent his 6-foot-2 frame to field ground balls or swing a bat to the point he had to be substituted out of games and missed Arroyo Grande’s postseason run.
“I had peace about it, honestly, the whole entire time,” he said. “I serve a big God and prayers are with me. I accepted the fact there was something wrong, and once the doctor told me I will not lose my leg or my life, I was good. That was a miracle.”
With the doctor’s blessing that he could continue to play baseball, Teixeira and his father met with Lachemann to break the news.
“It’s one of those things I haven’t really dealt with before, and I wasn’t prepared,” Lachemann recalled of the meeting. “When I went to tell the team and the coaching staff, they could see that something was wrong. There’s no way to prepare for handling it.”
Teixeira’s strong, positive outlook helped.
“I think he was shocked, but I don’t think he’s ever been scared. It’s just one more thing he’s going to take on and beat,” Lachemann said. “In that meeting he was still making jokes, like, ‘Coach, I finally got into UCLA. It’s just for treatment instead of baseball.’ ”
Teixeira undergoes alternating two-day and five-day chemotherapy sessions with two weeks of break between each in an effort to shrink the tumor. Sometime in August, the plan is that he will undergo radiation and surgery to remove the tumor — everyone involved is hoping it is less than the size of an orange by that point — followed by another stretch of chemotherapy.
The hourlong procedures leave him nauseous and fatigued, which takes a toll even as Teixeira keeps his spirits up.
“I tried to hit wiffle balls yesterday, just because I miss baseball a lot,” the career .371 hitter said. “I get really tired really quick, so that’s really annoying, especially because I feel totally fine right now. It’s a hard feeling to describe, but it’s something that I would never wish on my worst enemy.”
Chemotherapy also results in hair loss, and it was at that moment Teixeira learned how his fight had become a community’s.
A battlefield behind him
Whether from his spot at shortstop or at linebacker on the Eagles’ football team, Teixeira built a reputation around the county as a natural leader with a relentless drive that had opposing coaches raving.
“Teixeira is by far my favorite player on that team,” Atascadero football coach Vic Cooper said during All-County selections this past fall. “When we played them, he was the difference.”
That work ethic — along with his easy smile and charismatic personality — endeared him to parents, teachers, coaches, fans and players across the Central Coast. And the community took up the call when word of his illness came.
A GoFundMe.com fundraising campaign for his medical bills surpassed its $7,500 goal with a total of $8,102 in 22 days. The hashtag “#17strong” — in reference to his jersey number — was posted and shared on Twitter to help spread the word.
After Arroyo Grande won its opening-round Division 3 playoff game on a walk-off wild pitch, the entire team and about 20 other students lined the infield and shaved each other’s heads in solidarity.
“I couldn’t sit here and put words to how much the support means to me from the community, to this school, to my family, to my friends and everyone,” Teixeira said. “It’s something that’s extremely shocking, but it’s not something that has or will get me down because it’s all part of this long journey called life.”
Jordan Harrigan, a longtime friend who helped organize the shaving, wore Teixeira’s number when he rushed for 179 yards and offensive MVP honors in the FCA All-Star Football Classic on June 6.
“It’s been tough, but he’s got a whole battlefield behind him,” Harrigan said after the 23-13 win. “He’s got people ready to fight with him.”
Not only people in California, either.
Focus on the future
When Teixeira called Colorado Mesa coach Christopher Hanks to inform him of the situation, Hanks’ immediate reaction was comfort followed by stability.
He assured Teixeira that he would honor all previous scholarship agreements regardless of the precarious situation.
“I’ve been a head coach for 18 years at the college level,” said Hanks, whose team played for a Division II championship two years ago. “I’ve dealt with players who have passed away or family members who have gone through some tough things, but this was a first and it caught me off guard.
“First and foremost, our prayers are with him to come through this. As far as honoring the scholarship, that was a no-brainer and there was nothing difficult about it. We’ve got a locker here waiting for him.”
Teixeira fully expects to suit up for the Mavericks, even if he has to take a medical redshirt year as he recovers from surgery and chemotherapy.
There is the possibility the tumor won’t shrink or the cancer can return, but when Teixeira discusses his future, it’s in the same place as his past and present — on the baseball field.
He wants to play college and professional ball before fulfilling his dream as head coach at Cal Poly.
“And if somehow that doesn’t work out, which I’m going to make it work out because I’m determined, then I want to come back to this high school and I want to be the athletic director and coach baseball,” Teixeira said. “I want to be the guy that gets his kid’s name out there. There would be nothing more exciting, for me, than being a part of a kid who goes on to play college baseball or goes on to play professional baseball.”
That comes as no surprise to the coach who watched Teixeira grow from a promising freshman to a PAC 8 MVP and a voice of courage and inspiration.
“He doesn’t look at himself as special, even though he is,” Lachemann said. “He’s a team-first guy who is always supporting his teammates. I honestly believe he gets as much enjoyment out of other people’s success as his own.
“He’ll still get upset at his own mistakes, but he’s never down for long.”
• • •All-County Baseball Team
Player of the Year
Arroyo Grande, senior
Jonathan Baldwin, Paso Robles, senior
Nolan Binkele, Paso Robles, sophomore
Jeff Fernandes, Arroyo Grande, senior
Bailey Gaither, Paso Robles, senior
Elijah Garcia, Morro Bay, senior
Noah Gastelo, Atascadero, junior
Jeremy Jess, San Luis Obispo, junior
Mac Lardner, Templeton, junior
Jose Ojeda, Nipomo, senior
Morgan Smith, Arroyo Grande, senior
Shane Wyatt, Templeton, sophomore
Nash Ackerman, Arroyo Grande, junior
Austin Alarcon, Templeton, senior
Mark Armstrong, Paso Robles, sophomore
Anthony Bautista, Arroyo Grande, senior
Matthew Bosshardt, Mission Prep, junior
Marco Ferdinandi, Mission Prep, junior
Brooks Hollister, San Luis Obispo, senior
Gehrig Kniffen, Coast Union, senior
Jeff Neumann, Paso Robles, junior
Holden Nix, Atascadero, senior
Scott Rigdon, Templeton, senior
Matt Albright, Nipomo, senior
Joey DeLaRosa, Arroyo Grande, junior
Spencer Erdman, Atascadero, junior
Matt Keller, Paso Robles, junior
Westin Mace, Morro Bay, junior
Brandon Mallory, San Luis Obispo, senior
Jake McAvoy, Coast Union, senior
Matt Mundorf, San Luis Obispo, junior
Brayden Pinkerton, Arroyo Grande, junior
Dawson Rubio, Arroyo Grande, junior
• • •
Past players of the year
1981 Greg Mueller, Atascadero
1982 Donny Peters, Atascadero
1983 Billy Simons, Atascadero
1984 Scott Neill, San Luis Obispo
1985 Tom Keffury, Atascadero
1986 Reuben Granados, San Luis Obispo
1987 Chris Gardner, Paso Robles
1988 Phil James, Templeton
1989 Scott McClain, Atascadero
1990 Scott McClain, Atascadero and Tim Kubinski, San Luis Obispo
1991 Shannon Stephens, Arroyo Grande and Bryan Husband, Atascadero
1992 Robert Berns, Arroyo Grande
1993 Troy Silva, Atascadero
1994 Andrew McCrory, Atascadero
1995 Dustin Barnes, San Luis Obispo
1996 Scott Goodman, San Luis Obispo
1997 Ben Carey, San Luis Obispo
1998 Jason Botts, Paso Robles
1999 Joe Diefenderfer, San Luis Obispo
2000 Chalon Tietje, San Luis Obispo
2001 Trevor Caughey, San Luis Obispo
2002 Steve Guerra, Paso Robles
2003 Gilbert Buenrostro, Arroyo Grande
2004 Erik Morrison, Arroyo Grande
2005 Scott Blue, Morro Bay
2006 Matt Drummond, Paso Robles
2007 Austin Cunningham, Atascadero
2008 John Brehm, Paso Robles
2009 Bryce Cherry, Atascadero
2010 Thomas Bernal, Paso Robles
2011 Nathan Raubinger, Arroyo Grande
2012 Marco Murillo, San Luis Obispo
2013 Kyle Brown, Arroyo Grande
2014 Bailey Gaither, Paso Robles
2015 Ryan Teixeira, Arroyo Grande