Before every Arroyo Grande High baseball game for three seasons, teammates Garrett Ball and Ryan Teixeira would stand together and pray.
But before a summer collegiate baseball game against the Santa Barbara Foresters on Thursday, Ball — a reserve for the San Luis Obispo Blues — prayed without Teixeira. The person Ball calls his best friend should have been next to him wearing the same uniform, eyes closed, but Teixeira is at home recovering. It has been nearly a week since Teixeira had surgery to remove a 10-pound malignant tumor from his leg.
For most friendships there is a common thread that brings the two people together. For Ball and Teixeira, baseball was that thread. Over the past six years, the two have remained teammates playing the sport they love.
“When I was in the eighth grade and he was in the seventh grade, my dad was one of the coaches for Babe Ruth [League] in Arroyo Grande. I had heard about Ryan and I was like, ‘You got to get Ryan. I don’t care who you get, but you got to get Ryan,’ ” said Ball, while wearing a 17 Strong wristband — a reference to Teixeira’s number.
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“We have too many of the same interests to not be really good friends.”
That friendship carried on through high school and to last year, when Ball got a call from Teixeira after one of his college games at Colorado Mesa.
“We had just won one of our first games of the conference tournament and I was on cloud nine,” Ball said, shaking his head, “I called him and told him about the game ... after talking he was like, ‘Yeah, I’ve got to tell you something,’ then he told me about (his illness) and I like, I broke down. It was definitely tough.”
Teixeira had been diagnosed with Stage 1 Ewing sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that affects just 200 people in the United States each year.
“When he told me about it at first I just didn’t understand it,” said Ball, who added he talks to Teixeira every day. “But I’ve just kind of learned that I don’t need to understand it because [God] has a greater plan.”
Added Teixeira: “I think it’s been as hard for me as it has been for him.”
Ball — along with Teixeira's core group of friends, his girlfriend and the Central Coast community — rallied around the 2015 Tribune County Player of the Year during his fight.
“You can’t live without people like him, he’s always got my back and I’ve always got his,” Teixeira said during a phone interview Friday as he recovered at home from his recent operation.
On July 6, after undergoing chemotherapy for two months, Teixeira traveled to UCLA’s hospital in Santa Monica to have a six-hour procedure, which removed what had grown to be a youth-football-sized tumor.
The surgery, which came much sooner than the Teixeira family had expected following successful chemo rounds, went as well as everyone involved hoped and Teixeira said he’s now cancer free.
Right in line with a determination that helped make him one of the best baseball players in the county last season, he left the hospital two days early and returned home on that Friday. By Sunday, Ball said, Teixeira was walking around during a joint family dinner.
“He’s just surprising everybody with just how fast he is recovering,” Ball said.
Teixeira said he had been using a walker to move around his Arroyo Grande home, but as of Thursday, he’s been able to walk on a right leg sporting stitches — “too many to count” — and a fresh scar.
But Teixeira’s road to recovery will be long.
“This tumor is a common reoccurring tumor, but my family and I have faith,” Teixeira said.
Teixeira's goal, just as it was the day he had to step away from the diamond, is to play baseball again.
“He’s chomping at the bit to get back on the field. That’s all he can think about and that’s all he’s concerned with and I’m like, ‘Dude, you just gotta get healthy first. As soon as you get healthy we will take it one day at a time,’” Ball said.
If his recovery goes as planned, the two friends will be reunited at Colorado Mesa in Grand Junction, Colo.
Teixeira, who said Ball is a big reason why he chose the Mavericks, plans to take a medical redshirt season and play again in 2016 on the same team as Ball.
“I’m in love with the game of baseball, and getting back on the field will be the most emotional and one of the best days in my life,” Teixeira said with an upbeat tone. “Just being there is just going to be an awesome moment after what we have gone through together.”
Teixeira said he gets his stitches out next week and will resume chemo and radiation treatments July 27 through the end of the year in hopes of preventing a reoccurrence.
When treatment begins, Ball will be there to support him so that one day they can again bow their heads together before they take the field.
“If you talk to him, he’s 100 percent set on … when he gets back out there, he’s going to be stronger than ever,” Ball said. “I can tell you that I 100 percent believe that.”