BRADENTON, Fla. – Bligh Madris went through a lot during his junior year at Colorado Mesa in 2017. He saw his offense pick up with the addition of power to his game. That led to him being picked by the Pirates in the ninth round of the draft. He then went on to hit well in his pro debut with Morgantown.

But the 2017 season also brought some tragedy for Madris. His teammate at Colorado Mesa, Ryan Teixeira, passed away in March at the start of the season, losing his battle to cancer.

Teixeira was diagnosed with Stage 1 Ewing Sarcoma during his senior year of high school. He went to Colorado Mesa, where he joined Madris as a redshirt during their freshman year while recovering. During that time, the two grew very close.

“The year we red-shirted together was when he was in remission,” Madris said. “Was coming back to school the first time, and me and him sat together the whole year and got to know each other really well.”

Teixeira’s cancer returned, and he passed away on March 4th last year. The very next day, his team won an emotional game, with Madris hitting a home run.

“It was a rough ride going in as a team,” Madris said. “Kind of brought us together more, and was something that has just driven me since the day it happened.”

Madris saw a lot of positive changes to his game in 2017, which led to him being drafted so high. He credits remembering his friend with the improvements.

“I think that’s a big part in why my work ethic has changed, because his work ethic would have been the same if he was out there,” Madris said.

Madris is currently wearing number 17 in Bradenton, which was also his number last year in Morgantown. That was Teixeira’s number, and also a reference to his charity, 17 Strong.

“I try [to request the number],” Madris said. “It just ended up working out going to Morgantown last season, and it was available here. I try to play like he does every single day.”

So far, Madris has gotten off to a great start in Bradenton. He’s hitting for a .298/.333/.447 line in 47 at-bats with two homers. He’s been showing more power the last two years, which he credits to getting bigger and stronger, but also with his approach on inside stuff.

“I got more consistent on the inside pitch and started looking for it a lot more,” Madris said. “Obviously that’s changed here, because a lot of guys pitch me away here. I’ve been trying to adjust and get better changing my approach. All of the hitting coordinators here have helped with that.”

Pitchers will continue to adjust to him, but so far, he’s countering well.

“Bligh is doing a great job of taking balls the other way if he has to, and pulling balls if he has to,” Bradenton manager Gera Alvarez said. “I think he plays with an edge. He gives you his best. He finds way to barrel the balls. If you notice, the ball has great carry. He’s a great prospect for us.”

The mentality on the field goes back to remembering Teixeira. Madris plays with the memory of his friend, from wearing his number to embracing his work ethic on the field to drive him. And his approach on the field comes directly from the way Teixeira used to play.

“He was just kind of a guy to put his teammates first and play selflessly for the guy next to you, and everything will take care of itself,” Madris said. “That’s the way I try to play. I try to play for the guy next to me, not for myself.”