“I don’t like talking about my stats and stuff. It’s not worth it, they’re just numbers to me,” 18-year-old catcher Zach Aehlert said. Although he graduated high school in May, he’s still playing as a Lancer because his team is state bound.
Aehlert was named the DuPage Valley Conference catcher of the year. He also broke Lake Park High School’s home run record with 15 and the single season RBI record with 45. But none of that fazes him.
Along with those Lake Park record-breakers, Aehlert and his team marked Lake Park Baseball history on Monday by winning the Illinois High School Association’s Class 4A Super Sectional championship, being the first Lake Park baseball team to go to state.
“Zach is the quintessential team player that also happens to be the best player on our team,” said his varsity baseball coach, Dan Colucci. “He has both physical and mental skills, and a tremendous work ethic. He is only focused on helping the team win in any way possible. He has been a special player since he has arrived at Lake Park.”
On Friday, May 25, Aehlert sat beneath the glowing sun at Starbucks in Roselle, Ill., wearing a Belmont Abbey College hoodie. He was officially no longer a high school student. “It’s definitely a weird feeling,” He said. “In the last period of the last school day I was like ‘what! Why! This is already happening?’ Its crazy.”
Aehlert lives in Itasca, Ill., and attended Lake Park High School in Roselle, Ill., where he plays on the Lancers varsity baseball team.
His passion for baseball began when he started playing T-ball when he was four years old. “My dad coached me, it was fun,” Aehlert said. “We always got snacks afterwards, too. My dad didn’t play baseball, he wrestled and played football.”
Aehlert played football his freshman year as a wide receiver, but he didn’t have the passion for it like he did for baseball. He chose baseball because of the intense level of challenge. He said, “It’s a game that evolves. You’re always switching something and trying a new strategy.”
The game isn’t the only thing evolving and switching things up.
Aehlert will be going to Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, N.C. in the fall. “I had a couple other schools looking at me,” He said. “But it really just came down to where I felt the most comfortable. It’s baseball in the South. It can’t get any better than that. In all honesty, it was just that feeling of home. That’s why I picked it.”
His mother, Beth Aehlert, was encouraging throughout his college selection process, along with the rest of the Aehlert family. She said, “When we visited all the schools and got into the car after visiting all the coaches, there was only one school that he instantly called his father to talk about. That was Belmont Abbey. He’s always talked about going down South and playing baseball there so I told him to go give it a shot. I don’t want him to look back and wonder what would’ve happened.”
His father, Kurt Aehlert, was relieved after his son decided on a college. He was comfortable because his son was comfortable. “In the end, we’re all happy,” He said. “Ever since he made the final decision last year of going to Belmont Abbey, he kept making good decisions after that. He’s matured—from a boy to a man.”
Coach Colucci said, “It has been a tremendous pleasure of mine to watch him grow into the player he is today. I am very confident that Belmont Abbey is getting a player that will be able to come right in and contribute as a freshman.”
The soon-to-be freshman found his home away from home.
He loves that the campus is small and that everyone there welcomed him with open arms. His roommate is from Florida and plays shortstop.
But Zach Aehlert’s roommate can never compare to his 15-year-old brother, Nic Aehlert. “The person I’m going to miss the most is my brother, Nic,” He said. “It’s going to be hard because I’ve been around him my whole life. But we can FaceTime. Plus, it’s time for me to become an adult. My mom and dad have prepared me, but it’s still going to be hard because my brother’s my best friend and I’ll be away from him. But I’ll always come home and visit.”
On Tuesday, June 5, Nic Aehlert sat gently at the end of the dinner table and said, “Zach has been my best friend my whole life. I tell him everything. I look up to him, his decision-making, and how he knows what feedback to give me. It’s going to be weird because I’ll have to go to my mom now. Maybe she won’t like that about some stuff but hopefully she’ll get over it. I’ll miss Zach. I just wish him success and big achievements in life.”
What he hopes to achieve at Belmont Abbey is getting an education, graduating and winning a national championship with his class of 2022.
Zach Aehlert is the coachable, humble and family-oriented student athlete that every coach seeks for. He is a team player.
Wherever he goes, his team goes.
Here are what his closest friends and teammates had to say about him:
His childhood best friend and teammate, Ryan Behling, said, “As a player, Zach is just an all around stud. He has the arm to throw out anyone and is a wall behind the plate. He knows how to pick everyone up; he is the heart and soul of our team.”
The two have gone to school together for basically their whole lives. Behling said, “He’s always there for me whenever I need a pep talk; he always knows how to brighten someone’s day. He’s the most unselfish person I’ve ever met. Over the years, Zach and I have basically become brothers. I wish him the best of luck next year and I know he’ll kick some a— in baseball.”
Thomas Ross and Anthony Baturin, two of his best friends and teammates, didn’t know Zach Aehlert before going into high school. Ross barely talked to him freshman year, so he didn’t get to know him until their sophomore year.
Ross said, “Zach as a player is obviously a stud. He leads by example and vocally. He carries our team and puts it all out there every game. As a person he’s even more of a stud. He’s the nicest and most innocent kid you’ll meet, easy to talk to. He has become one of my best friends and I know he’ll be successful with whatever he does in life.”
Baturin instantly clicked with him freshman year and they became great friends. He said, “Over the past four years, Zach and I have grown to be real brothers. Zach is the guy that every coach and teammate would love to have. He’s that player that stands out over everybody. Every time he goes up to the plate, you know he’s going to do some damage. He’s the one you want up with bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh. Zach puts in more work than anyone I’ve ever seen and that’s why he’s so successful.”
He chose to miss out on parties. When he’d come home from practice, he’d go down to the basement and work out some more. Zach Aehlert said, “Pretty much everyone knows I live under a rock—but no one knows why.”
After he decided on Belmont Abbey, he wanted to stay home as much as possible. He said, “I wanted to spend as much time as I could with my family before I leave. But once in a while I’d go out and I’d ask my brother to come out with me and he’d usually say no—but I would use him as my excuse to leave early.”
There’s so much below the surface with Zach Aehlert. Anyone who has seen him play would never guess that he has allergy issues and asthma that he had to overcome.
“I pretty much have allergies to the outside world,” He said.
Grass, trees, pollen, horses, cats, and dogs…the list goes on. But he’s been taking allergy shots annually for the last seven years to help alleviate the symptoms significantly. “The allergy shots help me, so I’m not that allergic now. But the allergies were the most difficult thing I’ve had to face.”
Allergies or not, he pulls through for his team.
“His goal was always to go to state,” His father, Kurt Aehlert, said. “That was everything to him.”
Well here he is now, leading his team to state.
By Bella Michaels
The IHSA CLASS 4A BASEBALL STATE TOURNAMENT is Friday, June 8 at Joliet Route 66 Stadium – Lake Park vs. Huntley at 3:00 p.m.