When 15-year-old Evan Melau died in June 2020, he left a hole in his family and on the baseball diamond at second base. Now, Evan’s family is using his passion for baseball to bring together other players and carry on the memory of their son.
Jamie Melau, Evan’s mother, started the EM5 Fly High Foundation after Evan died in hopes of honoring Evan and providing closure to his friends who, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, did not get to attend Evan’s funeral. While the organization is still growing, Jamie said her goal is to figure out how to make it everything Evan loved, from sports to family and friends.
The way to honor Evan seemed obvious – a baseball tournament – and this year, the tradition will continue. The second Evan Melau EM5 Fly High Foundation baseball tournament will be Aug. 4-7 at Downers Grove South High School, where Evan had just completed his freshman year and was a member of the baseball team.
“Being at Downers [Grove] South [High School] means a lot to me because that’s where he would have played, and he always wanted to play college baseball, so high school is where that starts,” said Luke Spear, Evan’s best friend and teammate. “His family is wonderful, and they’re honoring their son in such a great way.”
Spear plays catcher and met Evan during their freshman year, when the two played football together and would have played baseball. Spear said Evan was a great teammate for a lot of reasons, one being that he wanted the best for everybody, so he never let anyone off easy.
Spear played in last year’s tournament and said he is looking forward to doing so again this year. Playing the sport Evan loved, Spear said, keeps him close to Evan and, while it is emotional, it’s also fun.
“Like most kids at that age, his friends were the most important thing to him, and he really took care of his friends and picked them up when they were down,” Evan’s mother said. “When he passed, I just thought, ‘I need to take care of them now for Evan.’ ”
Last year, the tournament was invite only and 15U teams, the division in which Evan would have played, said Laura Duffy, who serves on the EM5 foundation. This year, EM5 wanted to expand and is hoping to host six 15U teams and six 16U teams, Duffy said.
At the tournament, there will be concessions and raffles, and Duffy said the foundation is looking for cash and concession donations, as well as outdoor fire pit-themed donations. Duffy said EM5 hopes to raise enough money to donate athletic scholarships and equipment to teams in need.
“Evan was a kid who lived and breathed sports, and his parents want to support other kids’ dreams,” Duffy said. “We want other kids to be able to have the experiences Evan had.”
Evan also played football and basketball and was always at practices or games, his mother said. He wore No. 5 throughout his time in baseball, which she said inspired the name of the foundation. At the tournament, shirts with Evan’s number will be sold.
Dan Brewer, who coached Evan at Rake City baseball during Evan’s 12U and 13U seasons, said he is always ready to jump in and volunteer with the tournament “because it’s for Evan.” He said Evan was a leader with a work ethic that always made him stand out.
“We play it hard at the tournament knowing that’s how Evan played the game … because it’s about passion, and it’s about Evan,” Brewer said. “He wasn’t the biggest kid on the team, but he wanted to be the best, and I saw him grow every day.”
Brewer said he is always happy to help Evan’s family, and he believes the tournament is a great way to memorialize Evan. A number of Evan’s friends also volunteer and compete in the tournament, as well as participate in other events that EM5 hosts, Duffy said.
In addition to the tournament, EM5 sponsored a toy drive, Evan’s Elves and an Easter Egg Hunt this past year, Duffy said.
Jamie Melau said hosting these events in Evan’s honor and seeing his friends’ involvement has meant so much to her family and helps keep Evan with them.
“Those kids have taken care of us this year,” Jamie Melau said. “At some point his friends will age out and the players won’t know Evan, but this tournament will help us all remember him.”