MERCED The Merced High baseball season is winding down and this fact is not lost on Dallas Young.
The 17-year-old senior is in his third and final season with the Bears baseball program.
In the final weeks of the season it's almost as if Dallas has made it a point to personally break the news to his teammates, one by one, that he won't be around as much next year.
During Wednesday's game against Golden Valley, Dallas found a spot on the bench next to teammate Tyler Schortzman.
"You guys are going to need to get a new manager," Dallas said. "I'm graduating. I'm going to retire."
"I know," Schortzman said. "I'm going to miss you."
"Me too," said Dallas, as he patted his buddy on the shoulder.
Dallas has Down syndrome.
Despite never scoring a run or ever recording a strikeout, he's had as much impact on the baseball program as any player during his time with the team.
Just eavesdrop on his conversations with the players. How often do you hear high school boys telling each other they are going to miss one another? That's the effect Dallas has on people.
Former Merced coach Lou Souza describes Dallas as pure, innocent.
Just about every morning, Souza said, Dallas stops by his classroom. He peeks in the class, looking for a girl in the front. When he gets her attention, he makes a heart with his hands. She reciprocates the gesture.
"It's precious," Souza said. "We throw terms out like 'Bear baseball.' Dallas is 'Bear baseball.' He's part of us. Out here we have coaches, and right below the coaches is Dallas. You treat Dallas like you treat your coaches and the kids show Dallas the respect you'd want to see as coaches.
"They've taken him under their wings," Souza said. "I've never seen them make fun of him."
Souza was never worried about how Dallas would be treated by his players. Dallas is adored by the students at Merced. He was voted the homecoming king during this past football season.
Baseball players have shown up at Dallas' Special Olympics events to root for him as he competes in basketball, track, golf or bowling.
"He's the Van Wilder at our campus," Bears senior pitcher Matt Smith said. "He's a big guy. He's the homecoming king and everyone knows Dallas. Graduation is going to be big. He's going to get a big ovation."
Souza's main concern when Dallas joined the program was safety.
Dallas wears a helmet at all times and knows exactly where he is supposed to be, whether he's in the dugout or on the field.
Then there are the players, who know to look out for Dallas. Often a player will stand in front of him or beside him if there is a threat of a foul ball going into the dugout. There's always someone there to protect him.
"He knows he's the batboy and he's ready to do his job," Souza said. "That first year, he identified early when he was supposed to go get the bat and when he wasn't. He's coachable.
"I told him if we picked an all-league batboy," Souza said, "he would be the guy."
When the coach came up with the idea for Dallas to become part of the baseball program, parents Dewayne and Gina Young were thrilled.
"It's been great," said Dewayne Young, who is a Merced firefighter. "It's been everything we envisioned. Our son has a disability, and with all kids with disabilities they don't always get an opportunity to get involved. So it's been awesome.
"I actually feel guilty when I'm at the games sometimes because I get to relax. I never have to worry about my kid making an error or striking out. I want Dallas to do good for the team, and he does."
Dallas has mastered the art of being a batboy.
When Merced is batting, he usually sits on a bucket near the front opening of the dugout. When he senses it's time to retrieve a bat, he gets on his feet, ready to pounce.
Like a sprinter waiting for the starter gun to go off, he waits with his eyes fixated on the bat. When the bat is tossed toward the dugout that's his cue. He springs into action, running as fast as his two legs will carry him, scooping up the bat and returning it to the dugout. He then returns to the bucket, waiting for his next turn.
"I've seen him run out and pick up a bat and run as hard as he can," said Merced coach Justin Parle, who took over the program from Souza this year. "Then he comes back to the dugout like he's being chased by wolves. If I could just find a way to bottle that up and give it to the rest of my players."
Dallas knows how to have fun, too. Souza calls him a lady's man. When the team travels to Fresno for games they usually stop to eat at Chick-fil-A because Dallas has a crush on an employee who brought him a milkshake.
Ask Dallas and he'll tell you he has 29 girlfriends. He counts the daughter of Bears assistant coach Keith Petiti as one of them.
"I'm dating Kimmy," Dallas tells Petiti in the dugout before a game.
"That's my daughter, Dallas. You're not dating my daughter," Petiti jokes.
"Maybe," Dallas replies. At this point, Dallas is sporting a huge smile. Petiti can't help but laugh.
It didn't take long for Parle to become one of Dallas' fans.
"He'll sense my displeasure about something that happened out on the field and he'll say, 'Hey, coach, are you alright?' It will snap me out of my little tangent," Parle said. "He's genuinely worried about my well-being."
Dallas is worried about everybody.
After Golden Valley's Grant Borba was hit by a pitch in the first inning on Wednesday, Dallas stood up in the dugout.
"Is he going to be alright?" Dallas asked.
"I think he'll be fine, Dallas," Petiti said.
After tonight's ninth annual Kevin and Brian Nannini Scholarship Foundation contest between Merced and Golden Valley at Merced High, there will be five games left in the regular season.
After high school, Dallas will participate in a transitional program where he'll continue to learn math and reading skills. Eventually he'll learn job-related skills.
It's going to be tough to hang up his jersey.
"He starts preparing for baseball season around October. He looks forward to it," Dewayne Young said. "The boys have been great. It's been the highlight of his high school career along with being homecoming king.
"Come June, he loses a lot of his identity. He's been associated with the high school the last four years. The kids at the high school have given him opportunities and that doesn't happen a lot. He can't go anywhere in town without two or three people yelling his name.
"Dallas has gotten so much the last three years being with the baseball team. I hope that the kids have learned a little something from him. I just hope coach Parle doesn't want him to give that jersey back because that would be devastating."
That won't be a problem.
"He's definitely going to hold on to that," Parle said. "It's a no-brainer."