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Teixeira's mission: Raise awareness for cancer to honor Ernst's memory
Family of late West Hall player attends Yankee opener as guests of first baseman
Brian Ernst’s family stands at Yankee Stadium holding a hat in which first baseman Mark Teixeira inscribed “Brian, Faith, #5.” From left are father Steve Ernst, mother Donna Ernst, brother Brett Ernst and his girlfriend Jaclyn Balchus. - photo by For The Times


Listen as Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira talks about his love for Gainesville and Brian Ernst.

In his 19 short years, Brian Ernst had the chance to touch more hearts and lives than most people do in a lifetime, his mother Donna Ernst said.

That long list includes friends, family, classmates and his favorite athlete, New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira.

“I know how many people in the Gainesville and Atlanta area that Brian has touched,” Teixeira said Wednesday. “And I knew how inspiring his story would be to people all over the country and hopefully all over the world. I wanted to make sure that I could spread that inspiration as much as possible.”

Ernst, a former West Hall High School baseball player, died on March 16 from Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancer found in bone or soft tissue.

But he did get the chance to meet Teixeira, a former Atlanta Braves and Georgia Tech player, through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Though he wanted to play catch with Teixeira in New York, the two baseball players spent a few hours chatting instead.

“I explained to (Brian) that he got to spend probably a lot more time with Mark than he would have had he gone to New York,” Donna Ernst said. “He probably wouldn’t never ever gotten into the depth of conversation that they did. ... That was very special, getting to watch that.”

Those few short hours in the hospital inspired Teixeira to keep Brian’s story alive and raise awareness for Ewing’s sarcoma.

This season, Teixeira has inscribed his hat with “Brian, Faith, #5.” And following Brian’s death, Teixeira invited the family up to New York for the Yankees home opener on April 13.

“Just knowing the family and how much they love baseball and how much they knew Brian wanted to come to New York,” Teixeira said, “I thought that if they were willing, I would love for them to come to New York and be there in Brian’s place. And it also gave me the opportunity to give Mrs. Ernst the hat, the very first hat that I inscribed Brian’s name and number.”

Along with Donna Ernst, Brian's father Steve, brother Brett and Brett’s girlfriend, Jaclyn Balchus, visited New York and attended the opening game as personal guests of Teixeira. The Ernst family even sat with Teixeira’s wife and parents during the game.

“It was, of course, bittersweet, but at the same time we were very honored to be there,” Donna Ernst said. “Originally of course, Brian wanted to be on that trip. It was awesome; we felt Brian with us the whole time.”

The highlight of the day for the Ernsts was being presented with Teixeira’s hat.

“The thing that was so amazing about Brian was his faith throughout his entire ordeal, his entire cancer,” said Teixeira about the inscription in his cap. “He never once said ‘why me?,’ questioned his place in life or questioned why he got the disease. He was so upbeat and he knew that God gave him this cancer to teach other people about faith.”

Teixeira told the family that his mission this season is to help the Ernsts raise awareness for Ewing’s sarcoma and spread Brian’s story of inspiration.

And maybe a little of Brian’s inspiration is what helped Teixeira and Yankees win that opening game against the Los Angeles Angels, well that and the fact they are reigning World Series champions.

“I was a Braves fan, but after meeting Mark, I’m a Teixeira fan,” said Brett Ernst, also a former West Hall baseball player. “They won me over through all this, you can’t help but root for them now.”

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