Every year it’s something. One year Adam Sheriff had a lucky shirt. One year it was a pair of socks.
“Or his little beard,” said Billy Sheriff, Adam’s father. “One year they wouldn’t let him shave.”
This year, Adam Sheriff wears his lucky athletic sleeve to every Greenville High School baseball game. He had no idea just how lucky it would be. The sleeve covers his golden right arm, and on Friday night, Adam Sheriff took the mound at the Red Raiders’ Grover Reid Field.
Greenville coach Joey Golinski called Sheriff over a few minutes before the Red Raiders’ game against Hillcrest and told him he’d be throwing out the first pitch. It was a pleasant surprise to Greenville’s team manager who has autism.
Sheriff immediately began loosening up his arm. When the moment arrived, Sheriff fired a strike to Greenville senior Grant Cox. Sheriff said so himself.
“Inside corner,” he said shortly afterward. “My fastball.”
The surprise continued when the players took their game jerseys off and revealed T-shirts emblazoned with the colors of autism arranged in the Superman style “S.” Many of the Red Raiders’ fans wore Autism Awareness Shirts with the Greenville “G.”
When Sheriff departed the mound, he headed for the dugout, received hugs and high-fives from the players and was handed his T-shirt. He quickly made the transformation into the evening’s true Superman.
Sheriff comes to every practice. He never misses a game. And he cheers for all the players by name or number. But he had never thrown out the first pitch.
“This is my first time,” he said more than once during an impromptu press conference in the dugout after his fastball hit the corner.
“Greenville baseball means so much to him, he’s such a good kid and he’s such an important person for the kids of our team,” Golinski said.
“This is an appreciation of what he continues to do,” he added. “And with April being Autism Awareness Month, we thought we’d have an autism awareness night.”
Autism is a spectrum of developmental brain disorders characterized by social, behavioral and communication challenges, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The cause is unknown though researchers suspect environmental, biologic and genetic factors are involved.
It affects about one in 68 children of all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups, boys almost five times as often as girls.
The incidence has increased from one in 150 children in 2000, but scientists aren’t clear whether that’s because of an actual increase, better diagnosis or a recent broader definition of the condition.
Some children with the condition can be severely disabled. Others, like Sheriff, are functional.
Number one love
As a little boy, Sheriff was very hyper, his mother, Tammy Sheriff told The Greenville News.
He would bang his head on the floor and couldn’t stay in his seat, among other symptoms. By the time he was in the first grade, she said, he’d been diagnosed.
“The teacher recognized the signs,” she said. “We had him tested and it came back he was indeed autistic.”
Along with all sports, Sheriff likes the beach, swimming and playing video games, his mom said.
“But I would describe baseball as his No. 1 love,” she said.
And with the family living close to the high school, after he graduated in 2009, he began going to Red Raiders games.
“He serves as a manager, as a bat boy during games, and he chases foul balls when they’re hit,” said Kim Williams-Coan, whose son Lucas Coan is a senior on the team. “And he does prepare all the game balls … and gives them to the umpire.”
Sheriff, 27, wears a full uniform to every game, is very hard-working and reliable, and is usually one of the first to arrive and the last to leave, said Golinski.
He has the neatest locker in the locker room, quips Williams-Coan.
All the players call him Sheriff. He travels with the team to away games and tournaments, and he helps with the JV team as well, she said. He arrives for try-outs and remains until the last game of the season.
Williams-Coan said there aren’t many kids like him who show up year after year.
“He’s their biggest fan,” she said. “These boys have truly embraced him. And they’re excited about him throwing out the first pitch. He’s as much a part of the team as they are.”
“He loves the kids,” adds Golinski. “And he’s very well-liked.”
Tammy Sheriff attends many of the games herself and is thrilled to see her son doing what he loves with the many friends he’s made. But he fills her in on all the details of the games she misses.
“He tells me what the scores are, who hit what and about things that happened on the other team, like if someone gets hurt,” she said. “He’s really compassionate like that.”
The Red Raiders played their final regular-season home game Friday night, and they made Adam Sheriff the center of attention.
“I’m so happy for him,” she gushed. “I appreciate so much what this team and this school have done for my son. It just warms me all over.”
Tammy and Billy Sheriff sat in the front row behind home plate and took in the pregame festivities.
Afterward, Adam Sheriff said he was “shocked” when Golinski told him he’d be throwing out the first pitch but he wasn’t nervous at all.
“He was just smiling,” his mother said. “Oh, he was so beautiful smiling.”
That’s another thing about the sleeve. That’s where Adam Sheriff wears his emotions.
Follow reporter Liv Osby on Twitter @livgnews
Learn more Go to http://scautism.org/