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Team Andy steals the show at Hwy 10 Classic

The members of Team Andy pose after winning the Silver Medal championship with a placard dedicated to Andy Hendel, the reason why the team traveled to Perham to play in the tournament. Robert Williams/FOCUS

PERHAM —  In its second year, the Highway 10 Baseball Classic Tournament got a surprise visit from a special team playing for a special person, Andy Hendel.

Hendel passed away January 22, 2012.

After hearing about the Classic, a group of Hendel’s friends, 16-17 years of age, formed a team with little adult assistance and made the trip from Norwood Young America, Minn., to Perham last weekend to play for, and to remember, their fallen teammate.

“He was a great guy, a fantastic guy, and everybody knew him because of his smile,” Andy’s brother Josh said.

The team sported yellow jerseys with smiley faces on the front and Team Andy on the back in a further show of support for Andy. The team also won three of four games to win the Silver Medal championship in a 9-5 victory over the Perham Stingers.

Despite a lot of smiles and plenty of cheers from the dugout and a large collection of parents and fans, the reason Team Andy was playing was forefront in the minds of everyone involved, leading to an obvious emotional outburst at the end of the final game.

The tournament provided an opportunity for this special group of kids to come together and make a happy moment out of tragedy.

“When it happened in the community it was tragic; everyone felt it, so we heard about this and thought it would be a great way to remember him since he loved baseball and he loved to be with his friends and all of us here,” said Josh.

Josh acted as manager for the team filling out lineup cards and taking on adult coaches in four competitive ball games. The team he and friend Alex Eichner formed is made up of players from varsity experienced guys to one who had not played at all.

The team formed their own practices and really played impressive ball throughout the tournament losing only to Gold Medal runners-up Albany.

“It’s great, we didn’t know what to expect coming into this tournament,” said Eichner. “I thought we did really good and had a fun time.”

Originally, it was Eichner’s idea to make the trip to Perham to play in the Classic. Eichner had known Andy all his life and was all smiles at the end of such an emotional journey for the group of teenagers.

“My parents found an ad for the tournament and we thought it would be good and talked to John and Ann about it and they thought it would be great, so we threw together a team and drove up,” Alex Eichner said.

John and Ann are the parents of Andy, Josh and sister Olivia.

“I thought it was really cool and really fun to have everyone out here,” Olivia said.“It made me feel good.”

“It’s a rag-tag bunch of people, some played varsity, some don’t play at all,” said Josh. “It’s just a group of guys and friends who love to get together and love to remember a guy who made an impact on all of us.”

For John and Ann Hendel, the outpouring of support and the actions of this group of kids created more than emotions. They added memories that will not soon be forgotten and brought together a community of people in a tournament that is precisely dedicated to such support.

The tournament has its roots in tragedy. Chris Benz, a loving, young boy took his life at the age of 17 on January 11, 2007. Chris’ mom, Janet, and several of Chris’ friends created the Christopher Benz Foundation Baseball Tournament in New Hope, Minn., to connect with kids and teach them there is help available. The foundation has raised money to provide local high schools with grants to conduct suicide awareness and prevention activities. One year ago, the Chris Benz Foundation expanded their efforts to eliminate suicide in our youth. The Highway 10 Baseball Classic was the result of that expansion.

“It’s really cool, especially, for the group that’s here,” John Hendel said. “They played with Andy since the time they were in kindergarten. They all stuck together. To take their weekend to come up for this...amazing.”

Both parents were hit with emotions that were hard to hide after the game. It was hard not to feel that level of joy anywhere near the Team Andy dugout from the moment the final out was made.

“What happened today, it’s an absolutely beautiful story,” Ann Hendel said. “Andy would have been very proud of them today and like I told them when they started this tournament, ‘He’s your angel in the outfield,’ and I truly believe he was here all weekend with us.”

The Highway 10 Baseball Classic features three divisions, Gold, Silver and Bronze, and games were hosted on two ballparks in New York Mills and Perham.

While there was a lot of good baseball at this tournament, the event is really about youth suicide and working to eliminate it. Some sobering facts related to youth suicide:

-It is the number two cause of death for our youth.

-6 percent of boys and girls in grades 9 to 12 have attempted suicide per a 2010 Minnesota school survey.

-A grade with 100 students can expect six students to attempt suicide.

The Christopher Benz Foundation, along with the Highway 10 Baseball Classic, is dedicated to helping communities use various activities as platforms to educate young people and their families about the difficult subject of teen suicide, including overt programming throughout the tournament’s key messages of support, encouragement and the importance of young people making healthy choices.

Dan Peterson, James Mulcahy and Greg Esala are in charge of the three-day event with support from KLN.

With the help of Team Andy, this year’s tournament has a lot of great momentum to build on going into the third Highway 10 Classic next summer.

Robert Williams

Sports Editor at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 

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