Breaking in the field
La PORTE — The chilly temperatures and overcast skies did little to damper the grinning faces of the group of La Porte natives gathered at Clarke Park Saturday morning.
The friends and family of the late Jeff DeCamp heard the transformed baseball diamond at the city park come alive once more with the cracks of hardwood bats against rubber balls, the shouts of coaches from the sidelines and the shuffling feet of Little Leaguers rushing from base to base.
The sounds could only mean one thing — that, after nearly four years of fundraising and construction, the group had knocked its mission to honor one of La Porte’s most passionate sports lovers out of the park.
The La Porte Parks and Recreation Department and DeCamp Band of Brothers Foundation hosted a special dedication ceremony for the newly christened “Jeff DeCamp Field” that morning. The event celebrated the recent transformation of the baseball diamond at the La Porte park, located at 1400 Farrand Ave., with La Porte’s Wreckers 14U and the Elkhart area’s J-Shock Little League squads getting the honor of breaking in the field.
Thanks to the DeCamp Band of Brothers Foundation’s fundraising efforts, the La Porte Parks and Recreation Department has performed an extensive overhaul to the field, including regrading the soil, planting grass in the outfield and installing an irrigation system and fencing along the perimeter.
Later this spring, the department plans to build new dugouts and bullpens and make improvements to the spectator bleachers to make them compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, said La Porte Parks and Recreation Department Superintendent Mark Schreiber.
Schreiber is one of many La Porte County residents who grew up playing baseball with DeCamp, a La Porte athlete and a member of the state championship-winning 1987 Slicer baseball team. Schreiber, along with several other of DeCamp’s lifelong friends, formed a nonprofit in their friend’s honor in 2014, one year after the man died of cancer at the age of 42.
In late 2015, the organization decided to begin raising money to renovate the Clarke Park baseball field, which was in “deplorable” condition and in desperate need of updating, Schreiber said. The group raised more than $160,000 from local businesses and residents to fund the project, said Mike Riehle, a Band of Brothers board member who spearheaded the effort.
Speaking to the Little Leaguers and others in the community gathered at the ballpark Saturday, Darrin Brooks, another Band of Brothers board member, said he was excited to know a new generation of kids would have a chance to make lasting memories over a game of America’s favorite pastime, just as he, DeCamp and others had.
“There is going to be a little boy who will hit his first home run here, and it will be at DeCamp Field,” Brooks said. “Something is going to happen on this field and you will remember it for the rest of your lives. You will make some of your best friends, right here at DeCamp Field.”
When asked how DeCamp would feel if he were around today, witnessing his friends pull off such an incredible effort, Brooks said that the La Porte man would be humbled.
“He would be very humble, but very proud, to know his name was attached to something special that will make a difference in kids’ lives,” he said.