FLEMING ISLAND, Fla. – The Fleming Island High School baseball team celebrated its season and found a way to celebrate a teammate who never throws a pitch or swings a bat.
Shayne Strickland may be the happiest person in northeast Florida Tuesday night. Strickland's teammates and coaches presented him with an award named after him.
"He wanted to come out one day and I said, 'Yeah, come out and watch us play baseball.' He came out and he loved it ever since, and I love it," Corey Solomon said.
Surrounded by coaches and family, the teammates celebrated their just-completed season. They also celebrated their special friendship and partnership with Strickland, who has pervasive developmental delay, which falls on the autism spectrum.
"Shayne seems like a big part of the team to me because he's always been there," Austin Morton said. "He knows every single player's name. He knows every single person's number, even knows what I drive, and Shayne’s cool."
"They've definitely made him part of the family," coach Mike Schopp said. "I think they realize that there's a lot more important things than baseball, and Shane has brought that out in them."
Strickland didn't try out for the team. He was recruited to be an unofficial team manager based on his enthusiasm a year earlier attending a contest to see his lifelong friend Corey play.
Before long, Strickland was part of the team and part of the family.
"Oh, he is awesome. He's definitely part of the family," Billy Schopp said. "He's always there for everyone in the game. He's always cheering us on and never really gets down, too. He's awesome."
"He gets so excited for a game, he wants to get ready at 7 in the morning for a game at 6 in the afternoon, so he just really loves it and gets so excited," said Strickland's mother, Holly Strickland. "They just really have been amazing."
It's no surprise that his teammates love Shayne and include him. It was a complete surprise when the awards ceremony began with a new honor named after him, and presented to him as the first recipient.
"There were just so many times at the baseball field where there's just tears in my eyes because just to see him run out on the field," Holly Strickland said. "They'll just call him Shayne, and then he goes running out there."
"Every time after we start I'll go out on the field to help the people take up the field, clean up the field, for the next game too," Shayne said.
"Just acceptance. A lot of people will, you know, not listen to him when he speaks. And these kids have just taken him in," said his father, Ken Strickland. "So many people would just hear him talking and kind of brush him off. It's just so refreshing to have people that have just accepted him and you're exactly right -- made him part of the family."
His friend Solomon graduates, but the team has already asked Strickland to be ready to come back and support them next year.