By Shane Petagna
As Drew Ehrhard walked off the UT Baseball Field for the last time on May 21 after losing to Rollins College in the NCAA South Regional championship game, he left a legend.
Ehrhard, a Tampa native, had been around the university and the program his entire life. His father Rodney is a member of the UT Athletics Hall of Fame from his time as a baseball player from 1986-1987. Drew will surely find his name alongside his dad in the near future.
Ehrhard holds the school record for games played, games started, at-bats and hits over his six-year career as a Spartan. He is the only player in Tampa history to record over 1,000 at-bats. Overall, he is in the top 10 in 23 all-time statistical categories.
“The record of playing the most games as a Tampa Spartan is just kind of really special to me knowing that I got to put on that jersey just as many times as about anyone ever has,” said Ehrhard. “So getting to play as long as I did for an amazing school and amazing fan base, amazing coaching staff, amazing team, it’s truly special.”
The model of excellence that Ehrhard was able to develop comes from his best attribute–availability. As a utility player, Ehrhard was used all over the diamond in his contributions for Tampa.
As a freshman in 2018, he won the ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove Award for his production at second base. He was a key member of the 2019 national championship team. Ehrhard was able to continue his college career thanks to eligibility rules related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ehrhard only got better as he became more experienced. He racked up All-conference and All-American honors throughout his time as a Spartan, all while batting over .300 in all six seasons.
But once his collegiate playing career ended, his future was cloudy. He wanted to stay involved in the game of baseball and even had thoughts of opening his own training facility.
The opportunity to be special in someone else’s career came from a connection Ehrhard made the summer before. In 2022 he played in the Cape Cod Baseball League, the most prestigious summer league in the country where hundreds of former players are drafted by major league teams every summer. He played for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks under UT alum and Strawberry Crest High School coach Eric Beattie.
“I talked with Coach Beattie, it was probably towards the beginning of the spring season. I knew I wasn’t planning on playing anywhere this summer, especially since I was out of college eligibility. And I knew coaching was an avenue that I was really looking forward to after my playing days I assumed were done,” said Ehrhard. “So he asked if I wanted to come up this summer and coach in the Cape Cod League and that’s just something I just couldn’t turn down.”
Ehrhard returned to Hyannis as a hitting and baserunning coach, with his younger brother Zach playing on the team as an outfielder.
The Oklahoma State product performed well in his 35 games played as the Harbor Hawks finished second in the West Division and would lose in the CCBL semifinals to the eventual champion Bourne Braves.
However, Drew would not be around for the team’s playoff run. As Hyannis saw 14 former players selected in the MLB Draft from July 9-11, Ehrhard would get an unexpected call about a week later.
Out on a whale-watching boat with his family and girlfriend, he had no cell service for most of the trip while out on the Atlantic Ocean. But a two-minute span changed his life.
On the water, the Ehrhards temporarily regained service. There were missed calls and texts and Drew and Rodney’s phones from the UT baseball coach Joe Urso and Tom Kotchman, an area scout for the Boston Red Sox.
“I knew Tom Kotchman, a scout in that area had always for a couple of years been trying to get me but I had kind of come to peace with it,” said Drew. “I knew it was kind of a long shot.”
The Red Sox wanted Ehrhard to fill a need at catcher in their minor league system, a position he had not played since 2022. On July 25, he signed a contract with the team. He immediately got to work with the team at their spring training complex in Fort Myers, Florida and played for the minor league affiliate in the Florida Complex League.
“This was a way for me to get my foot in the door and that’s all I’ve ever wanted. I just wanted to get in there and show them what I could do,” said Ehrhard. “And they said it was not a lot of guaranteed playing time. It’d be a lot of bullpens at first, but they had confidence in me that I would come in and do the right things and that’s exactly what I did.
Ehrhard made a few appearances, playing in five games and having seven at-bats. He recorded two hits, including a double, as he played catcher and served as the designated hitter. His performance allowed him to be called up to the Greenville Drive, the High-A affiliate of the Red Sox, where it is presumed he’ll start the 2024 season.
Now, Ehrhard is staying in Fort Myers and continuing his hard work at the Red Sox training complex between weightlifting, defensive drills and hitting with players and staff until just before Thanksgiving.
“I anticipate getting into spring training being in the best shape that I can possibly be,” said Ehrhard. “I’m gonna work harder than I’ve ever worked all offseason.”
For Ehrhard, 2023 has been a whirlwind of accomplishments. He solidified himself as one of the best Spartans the University of Tampa has ever seen. He was able to coach his little brother and other elite amateur baseball players when he thought his playing days were done. And he was given the chance of a lifetime by the Red Sox.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Ehrhard. “All of it’s coming into reality and I’m gonna ride this train as long as I can.”