Partners For Churchill's Dream Baseball Park

Partners For Churchill's Dream Baseball Park

The new partnership Churchill High School has fostered with Bethesda Chevy Chase Baseball, Inc. — and vice versa — is more than a win-win situation. It's more like making a triple play — two innings in a row.

BCC Baseball, a local organization founded in 1993 that serves over 4,500 youth players on 350 teams, is finalizing a contract with Churchill this week that will give the organization the authority to adopt Churchill's baseball and softball fields.

"They are very serious about their fields," said Bob Scherer, a parent of a Churchill varsity baseball player who has been involved with other parents to find ways to improve the conditions of Churchill's field. "They came in here and looked at the drainage and the shape of the dirt and grass, things they know are important to making this a good permanent facility."

BCC BASEBALL has already adopted fields at Walt Whitman, Walter Johnson, Einstein, Tilden Middle School and Westland Middle School, said Tom Wotring, president of BCC Baseball. To maintain Whitman's field, Wotring says his organization spends, on average, $3,000 to $5,000 each year.

"From Churchill's standpoint, they were anxious to control access to the field," said Wotring. "For us, it not only give us another set of full fields, it gives us a terrific location. A big part of growth is coming from Potomac. I can't tell you the number of people that have said, 'Can we practice at Churchill?'"

Churchill players, many already in the BCC league, are rounding the bases with enthusiasm after years of playing on fields with divots from soccer, field hockey and football cleats. Last year, Churchill didn't even have a home field because of construction.

"We're showing everybody a new Churchill," said senior Roger Chaufornier, who will be playing at the University of Tampa next year. "Before when they thought of Churchill, they thought…"

"Crappy field, crappy record…," said Matt Disbrow, who also plans to play collegiate baseball next spring.

"We have a new field coming out, new players, we're basically going to start a dynasty here," said Chaufornier.

"The better the field looks, the better the aesthetics, the better you play. You feel like you're in a more professional level," said Matt Naimoli, who will also play at the collegiate level next year.

WHILE BCC BASEBALL gets access and use of a field year round for youth in its organizations — "We're very excited about priority use at a complex like Churchill," said Wotring — Churchill gets the backing of an organization that will maintain the field and use its expertise to determine what will be necessary to the help design a first-rate ballpark.

"Each field and school is a little different. We helped Whitman maintain and purchase a new batting cage. For Einstein, we helped purchase equipment. We hope for a long-term relationship," said Wotring.

This year, Wotring said BCC Baseball will reseed Churchill's outfield and help work on the fence. After engineers looked at the field, BCC Baseball determined that in the future it will have to resod and reconfigure the field since there is not enough distance behind home plate, and create dugouts.

"THEY HAVE SO MANY kids participate throughout the community, it's nice to have field, perhaps, be their showcase facility," said Scherer. "This is America's pastime still. To see this utilized, right on a major thoroughfare here, centrally located, and to have a facility that will be used — young kids on the softball field and older ones on the baseball field — all spring and fall, that's kind of cool. It really is."

BCC Baseball already started last Saturday to work on a drainage system along the third base line since water collects there due to a downgrade from right field to left field.

"It's the best of all possible worlds for us," said Mike Carroll, Churchill's athletic director. "BCC Baseball has been trying to get county fields all along, they are well organized.

"What concerned me most is who is using your field, who is on the field. At least the field will be used for baseball, that's the key."

PARENTS RAISED money through the Andy Ehrlich Memorial Fund. The fund was established in honor of Andy Ehrlich, a varsity baseball player and graduate of 1991, who died after contracting bacterial meningitis after his freshman year in college.

His senior year at Churchill, Ehrlich and his team finished the season with a 13-3 record, the best record in Churchill baseball history.

Fundraising efforts through the fund have raised approximately $10,000 that BCC Baseball will match in order to install a fence around the outfield. The fence will be a little higher in left field — to a small degree like Boston's Fenway Park — because of a hill that rounds the outfield.

"It will be the Blue Monster, we hope" said Bruce Bortnick.

It will also enable that BCC Baseball can ensure that the field be used solely for baseball.

"On the weekends because it is not defined as a baseball field, you have pickup soccer games that tear up the field," said Bruce Bortnick, who has a son in his junior year and is on the baseball team. "That really doesn't happen at other baseball schools. It's been a problem and a danger, it detracts from the game."

"IT'S GREAT, it's just great all around," said Churchill's coach Ernie Williams. "When you know you have support, it makes my job a lot easier."

Wotring said discussions on all of this started just a couple of weeks ago when he was approached by one of the parents at a dinner party. He suggested that they contact his organization during the week.

"They didn't even let the grass grow," said Wotring, who heard from them later that week.

"They're driving me nuts, but that's okay," said Carroll. "They came in with a list of things they wanted done to the field for the future and they've gone after it. That, I don't mind a bit. If it's improvement to the program, it's all good."

LOIS GUTMANN has had three sons play baseball at Churchill. Her youngest, Casey, will graduate this year, but she wants to help create a program that continues to grow.

"We want this to be exciting for them. We want to be as committed as the kids to get a program going that's worthy of them," said Gutmann.

And the ideas continue.

"Everybody is pulling together, bringing different ideas and expertise and lots of energy," said Bortnick. "I think the new park will attract more players to come out and people will be interested in the program.

"We're hoping to find a student to announce the games, play music between innings and create more of a baseball atmosphere so I think all of it will be positive energy for the future."

Gutmann, the parents, and the players and coaches themselves will continue fundraising efforts throughout the year to raise more money for the Andy Ehrlich Memorial Fund, the only fund specifically marked for the baseball program.

In 10 days, they will be playing with the vision of a future park that will be taking shape like their field of dreams.

"WE BELIEVE if we make it look more like a baseball diamond, we can feel more like a baseball team. If you feel like you're walking into a baseball park, you start thinking baseball," said Williams, who is also Churchill's football coach.

"Whitman got a new field and they had a good team that year. That's what we're going to be," said Naimoli, whose entire team worked on raking the infield after their opening-day victory over Walter Johnson on Saturday.

"This is our first time in four years that everybody is out here raking," said Disbrow. "It gets the best out of everybody."