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Hops fan Keith Eakland was honored by McDonald's for his service at the restaurant in Hillsboro.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Keith Eakland (far right) with his brother Ken (far left), his father James and Hops mascot Barley pose for a photo following a ceremony recognizing Keith's accomplishments at McDonald's Tuesday, June 14, at the Tanasbourne McDonald's.McDonald's gave long-time employee and big Hillsboro Hops fan Keith Eakland a big "thank you" on Tuesday, June 14, at the fast food giant's Tanasbourne location.

As part of the company's "Thank You Crew" program, McDonald's local director of operations, Dennis Hodges, surprised Eakland with season tickets to the Hops — and informed the 37-year McDonald's veteran that he'd be throwing out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the Hops' game with Vancouver on Friday, June 24.

Eakland and his dad James have half-year season tickets to the Hops now. He said he was honored by the recognition and excited for his upcoming opportunity to throw out the first pitch.

"Oh yeah," Eakland said when asked if he was excited about the honor of kicking off the June 24 game. "I won't be nervous — I just hope I can make it to home plate."

He was born with a condition called hydrocephalus, or excess fluid in the brain, and simple tasks can be difficult for Eakland. But he doesn't let that stop him. Having only called in sick to work once in his career due to major surgery, according to his employer, McDonald's is his passion and source of independence.

Eakland's brother Ken was in attendance for the ceremony and was all smiles when Hodges and Hops mascot Barley presented Keith with the award. He said that despite doctors' suggestions that Keith would never be able to be independent or hold a full-time job, he earned his high school diploma, got a driver's license, and has earned high praise from every employer he's ever had.

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Hillsboro's Keith Eakland takes a batting stance after receiving season tickets and in invitation to throw out the first pitch at a Hops game June 24 as part of McDonald's 'Thank You Crew' initiative."I'm really proud of his accomplishments," Ken Eakland said. "He works hard, is dedicated to doing his best, and takes pride in what he does and what he knows about the job."

James Eakland, who is a retired U.S. Forest Service employee, was also there for the surprise. He almost spilled the figurative beans when Keith Eakland approached him minutes before the announcement was made.

"This is great and I'm real proud of him, but I almost blew it," James Eakland said with a chuckle. "He asked me what was going on, and I had to tell him they were announcing a new burger."

The "Thank You Crew" program is a McDonald's initiative started earlier this year with the intent of recognizing outstanding employees nominated by restaurant customers. The company has been inviting customers nationwide to join them in recognizing McDonald's crew and managers in their local restaurants who are going the extra mile.

"It's a national incentive where McDonald's decided they wanted to go out and start recognizing crews," Hodges said. "So, they started having customers and other food people nominate people within the restaurant who go above and beyond. We started this about four months ago."

Keith Eakland's recognition was the first of 17 that McDonald's will be doing over the next 30 days.

The longtime McDonald's employee spent the bulk of his tenure in Great Falls, Montana, before coming to Hillsboro with his father in 2019.

While in Montana, Eakland said he mostly worked the lobby and oversaw the French fry making process, earning the moniker of "Fry Guy." But since coming to Hillsboro, his responsibilities have grown further, including learning the computer and acting as a cashier.

"I've never done some of this stuff," Eakland said. "In Montana, I just did the fries and worked the lobby and didn't work the cash register. Now I do more, and it's good."

PMG PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - McDonald's local director of operations Dennis Hodges (left) presents employee Keith Eakland with an award for excellence as part of the company's 'Thank You Crew' program Tuesday, June 14, at the McDonald's in Tannasbourne.Eakland's father echoed his son's sentiments and additionally spoke to his work ethic.

"He's committed, and does his job and gets it done," Keith's father said. "They called him the 'Fry Guy' in Great Falls, because that's all he did. But he came here and they said, 'You're going to learn how to do the computer,' and Keith said he wanted to do that, so now he does the computer and does the cash register. And he's proficient at it."

As part of the "Thank You Crew" program, McDonald's is recognizing many of their crew with one-of-a-kind experiences that are personalized to them. As a huge Hops fan, Hodges said it was an easy decision when personalizing Eakland's reward.

"He's been a baseball fan from day one," Hodges said. "I absolutely enjoy being in the restaurant and being able to recognize the folks that do what they do, day-in and day-out."

He added, "Our organization has almost 900 employees. That's a big number, and there's no way we could do this without them."

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