When Ryan Teixeira chose to wear the number 17 on the baseball field for Arroyo Grande High School, he didn’t pick it out of a hat. The number carried meaning for him, with ties to his faith and goals.
“Seventeen is biblical. It means victory,” said Garrett Ball, one of Teixeira’s close friends and former teammates at Arroyo Grande and Colorado Mesa. “That’s why he chose it.”
Now, for many, the number be forever linked to Teixeira.
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The hashtag #17strong filled social media feeds and adorned T-shirts and wristbands as Teixeira was diagnosed with cancer, beat it, and then was diagnosed again. Following Teixeira’s death on March 4 at 20 years old, Arroyo Grande decided that Teixeira will be the last baseball player to ever wear 17. His number was retired Friday in an emotional ceremony at the school before the baseball team’s game against Cabrillo.
“The fact that no one will ever wear 17 again, that’s pretty crazy,” Ball said. “When I was playing with him, that wasn’t even a thought. But everyone at A.G. will have a reminder every day of what that legacy is, and I think that will continue to spread his story and affect more and more people.”
Ball was just one of many former teammates, friends and family that attended Friday’s ceremony. They joined current players along the third-base foul line before the game while four players, all wearing number 17 warmup jerseys, held a banner that read “Teixeira 17 Forever” as the announcer shared memories with the large crowd that gathered in the bleachers.
“Most games he had become friends with the home base umpire, the opponent’s first and third base coaches and any opponent he passed on the base path or happened to make it to second base while he was playing shortstop,” the announcer said, reading from a prepared statement.
The ceremony marked the first time an Arroyo Grande baseball jersey number had been retired.
“The people that know him just want to make sure that as many people as they can get to realize who he was,” said Arroyo Grande head coach Brad Lachemann, who coached Teixeira for four years. “That is the effort, we don’t want to forget him and we don’t want people to miss out on knowing him even if they didn’t get a chance to when he was alive.”
Lachemann laughed when describing Teixeira’s playing style on the field.
“He was like a 5 year old playing for the first time all the time,” Lachemann said. “We used to joke that he would run the bases like a puppy, arms going one way, legs going the other, with a big smile on his face and his tongue wagging. He just had a great time, and everybody around him did, too.”
Lachemann said he will continue to share with future players what Teixeira stood for — mainly his kindness toward others and his love for life and competition.
Teixeira was diagnosed with leukemia eight months after his final round of chemotherapy stemming from his initial cancer diagnosis. He had surgery to remove a 10-pound malignant tumor from his leg a little more than a year ago.
The 2015 Tribune baseball player of the year had been attending Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, where he was a member of the school’s baseball team. After returning from a trip with the team, he caught a cold that wouldn’t go away, ultimately leading to a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia.
Although Teixeira’s number will never be worn by an Eagles player on the baseball field, the number will live on through the 17 Strong Foundation, an organization created by Teixeira to help others with life threatening illnesses.
A memorial for Teixeira is scheduled for 1:17 p.m. Sunday at Arroyo Grande High School.