Mercy Field marks firsts for manyWritten by Caitlin McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Before a backdrop of winter’s bare trees against spring’s azure sky, they stood.
The young men, standing in a semicircle from first to third base, are the ballplayers who get to break in Mercy Field.
Hundreds of parents, baseball fans and school leaders alike gathered to celebrate a number of “firsts” the evening of March 14. This marks the first year that Lourdes University has a baseball team. This is the first year that Central Catholic High School will call a new field home. It is the first time that Mercy has named a sports facility.
Everything about the place is polished. The ground on the field is covered with state-of-the-art turf — the same material The Ohio State University and the Pittsburgh Pirates use. The bleachers, which can handle more than 400 people, have a sleek shine. Walk inside the brick building wrapping around the field and you’ll find a study room equipped with wireless Internet and a spacious locker room.
“It’s sort of unreal to walk out there and say ‘Yeah, this is my home field,’” said Austin Gunn, a junior studying education at Lourdes University.
The ground upon which he stood was planted years ago by a man named Cleves Delp. Delp runs The Delp Company, a consulting firm in Maumee that deals in wealth and risk management and employee benefits.
A couple of years ago, Delp approached Father Dennis Hartigan, president of Central Catholic, and asked him what he thought about building a baseball field for the school. The school’s administration took surveys of the community to determine whether the idea would catch, but Hartigan concluded that the school would have trouble finding enough donors to fund the project, Hartigan said.
Delp decided to pay for it himself.
He rented land on South Holland-Sylvania Road from the Diocese of Toledo, paid to have the facility built and drew in Mercy as a sponsor. Some 100 meetings later, Lourdes University and Central Catholic now rent the field from him.
Delp played baseball for Central Catholic as a teen and continued playing baseball during college. But, he said, this is not about baseball.
“This field is about the extension of the renaissance of Central Catholic High School,” he said. “It really isn’t about baseball; that is just the conduit to the real mission.”
The deed also extends the arms of Lourdes University. Under President Robert Helmer’s watch, who is leaving for Baldwin-Wallace College, the institution has added a men’s baseball team and men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball teams. Next year, the school will have a softball team, he said.
Delp said he feels close to Central Catholic because it is “uniquely” Catholic. For example, he said the entire tennis team must attend Mass on Fridays. He used to serve on the school’s board and his marketing director, Jesse MacDonald, is the school’s tennis coach. He also cited the school’s quality of education; it was the first in the area to offer an international baccalaureate diploma.
Delp may have funded most of the operation, but the feat was not something he did alone. He credits his good friend and Central Catholic baseball coach Jeff Mielcarek, who is also the Catholic Youth Organization athletic director, with helping him foster the idea. As kids, he said they both played Little League, but not on the same team. As they grew up, their lives continued to intertwine. They worked for the Mud Hens together at one point. One day, Mielcarek suggested to Delp that the two should dream.
“Little did I know, [Mielcarek] delivered,” he said. “Here we are, a few hundreds of thousands of dollars later.”
The project also united four Catholic institutions that have never worked together on such a scale. Delp did not set out to only work with Catholic entities, but he said he was pleased that it turned out that way.
Hartigan and Helmer both said Wednesday that the deal is all about providing what is best for the students. That means seeing a student as a well-rounded individual in body, soul and mind. Athletic involvement stands for part of this, Hartigan said.
When ethical breaches abound in the national sports arena, such as the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal, anchoring sports in some kind of values is vital, Delp said.
“Athletics in the absence of a value-based system, whatever system that may be that you may choose, is dangerous,” he said. “Athletics for the purpose of athletics and not for the purpose of building character is dangerous and it causes people to do silly things. To put certain things like winning above what was really supposed to be happening, and that’s building character.”