Every time a Churchill baseball player steps into the practice batting cage on the side of the school's baseball diamond, the memory of Andy Ehrlich watches over him.
"He didn't grow up playing baseball, he grew up playing tennis. But when he got interested his athleticism made him a great player," said Cliff Gutmann, 28, a friend and teammate of Andy's during the 1991 season at Churchill. "When he would get into a batters box, the coaches got crazy at first but then said, 'He may not have great form, but you can't argue with the results.'"
The batting cage is called "Andy's Cage."
DURING THEIR SENIOR YEAR in 1991, the varsity baseball team finished 13-3, the best record of any Churchill baseball team in the history of the school.
"Baseball was everything to him. From a little kid on, he always had a ball in his hand. It gave him confidence and success. It was a passion," said Marilyn Ehrlich, Andy's mother.
On May 26, 1992, Andy died after contracting bacterial meningitis following his freshman year at the University of Arizona.
To this day, a memorial fund in his name is established at Churchill to enhance the baseball program at the school. It is the only fund specifically allocated for the baseball program. Money in the fund will help to build a fence on Churchill's baseball field and to improve the overall condition of the field. (See story, page 3.)
"The fund is what Andy was about. It's something that Andy loved," said Marilyn Ehrlich.
EACH SPRING at the baseball team's season-ending team banquet, the Andy Ehrlich Memorial Award is given to a senior who exemplifies "Andy's drive and love for baseball."
"One of the reasons he got away from tennis is he liked being a team player," said Gutmann. "The first year he was a project. After that, he got better and better. He was always a big-game player."
Gutmann said he helped convince Andy to tryout for the baseball team in the fifth grade.
"When we were not in uniform playing, we were in the driveway with a tennis ball or playing Frisbee. One of the things I remember most is being in seventh, eighth and ninth grade lining up dates."
But baseball was always Andy's passion.
"The last thing I remember him saying — he was still joking around trying to set me at ease," said Gutmann. "I asked, 'How do you feel?' He said, 'I feel like Jack MacDowell after giving up a Greg Gagne home run.’
"He loved playing baseball, he loved talking about baseball. To be remembered with baseball would be the ultimate compliment to him."