ANTIOCH -- The unexpected death of a well-liked recent Antioch High School graduate has rocked the school community and his baseball teammates.
Shaquille Sayles, 19, died Wednesday after apparently hitting a tree while riding an all-terrain vehicle in Philomath in Oregon's Willamette Valley.
Sayles, who grew up in Oakland with his mother before moving to Antioch with his aunt and uncle, graduated this year from Antioch High.
"He was just a great kid with an infectious personality. It's just tragic; everyone has been thrown for a loop," said Nahleen Cloninger, whose son was friends and teammates with Sayles.
"I don't think he knew how to hate. He was just such a positive person, and he really cherished the little things," said Ben Juarez, his high school baseball coach.
Garlic fries at San Francisco Giants games and queso dip at Chili's brought a smile to his face, Juarez said.
"I was very proud of him; he grew up to be a fine young man," said Stella Owens, Sayles' mother. "I had high hopes for him that he would be a productive citizen in society with morals and values. I think he accomplished that."
Nicknamed "Shaq" by most who knew him, Sayles played center field and wore No. 3 for the Panthers the past three years. He was enrolled in Linn-Benton Community College and living in Albany, Ore., hoping to one day play at Oregon State University.
"Shaq didn't really put himself before anybody else. He just had so much love for everybody else; you just felt safe when you were around him," said Ronny Brohman, Sayles' friend.
Brohman said he and Sayles met playing catch on the first day of baseball practice, and were almost like brothers.
"He used to say we were like brothers from different mothers," said Brohman, adding that the two often referred to each other as "guardian angels."
Sayles, a slick-fielding, power-hitting outfielder, lived with a relative in Detroit over the summer and worked so he could afford junior college, Juarez said.
Brohman, who was Sayles' roommate at Linn-Benton, shared stories about how the two had their own vernacular, a similar love of pizza rolls and dreams of playing college baseball together.
"We stayed on each other about everything, especially school and sports. (Shaq's) main thing was just to be successful," he said.
Benton County sheriff's Capt. Greg Ridler said Sayles was visiting friends Tuesday night and early Wednesday and had gone riding ATVs with a friend at about 4 a.m. The two got separated, and Sayles was later found seriously injured. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
Ridler said this week deputies are investigating the crash.
Brohman said the two had been riding earlier in the day, and he repeatedly warned Sayles to be careful and slow down.
Word of the fatality spread around campus Wednesday morning, Juarez said. After school that day, several current and former Antioch High players and friend gathered in center field.
"There was just a great outpouring of love and support," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.
The Antioch High School baseball community is trying to help Sayles' mother raise the $4,000 for transportation costs to bring her son home for burial. The account is set up at Wells Fargo Bank, account No. 8660574453 and is for Stella Owens/Shaquille Sayles.