A day filled with celebrations for the Valpo Parks and the Valpo Parks Foundation culminated on Thursday afternoon when stakeholders celebrated the groundbreaking of Samardzija Field, which featured former Valparaiso High School and Notre Dame Football legend and current San Francisco Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija.
The project kicked off in the summer of 2016 when the Samardzija Family spearheaded the renovation with a lead gift of a new baseball field. Since then, donors from all over Valparaiso have come together to raise money and donate generous gifts that have, and continue to go towards revamping Tower Park.
In speaking about growing up in Valparaiso and taking advantage of the great parks that influenced his childhood, Samardzija said, “For me, it was 200 East Park (in Valparaiso) and it was right next door to the house that I grew up at. It’s just about appreciating that space that I could grow up in and get to know my friends and people in the area, and just have a carefree childhood which is what every kid deserves. Hopefully this is just another opportunity for kids in the area to come out and enjoy the space.”
The renovation of the Tower Park baseball field, which will be called Samardzija Field, will include an all-weather, multipurpose turf field that will be fully accessible for everyone, including individuals with disabilities.
“I’m not to worried about the name on it,” Samardzija commented. “I’m just excited that we can do something that a lot of kids can use and will last a long time. I just want to inspire kids to get that feeling of what it’s like to play in a nice stadium with the lights and just high-end things around you. It inspires you to go on to that next level and to keep playing in bigger and bigger stadiums.”
“I remember going to Tower Park when I was younger, catching and popping fly balls and being there until we had to be home for dinner,” said Sam Samardzija. “It’s been a dream of mine and my younger brother, Jeff, to give back to the community.”
Earlier in the day, crowds gathered to celebrate the completion of Phase 1 of the Tower Park renovations and this event, later in the day, served as the groundbreaking and kick-off of Phase 2.
“This is a continuation of another great project here for the renovation of Tower Park and our leaders giving back,” said Valpo Parks Executive Director, John Seibert. “This park has served generations of kids and families and, because of this great public-private partnership, we’re anticipating that we’re going to be serving another generation of kids, families and adults in our community even better than ever.”
Notable athletes and community leaders came together through the “Leaders Giving Back” initiative which worked as the fundraising arm of the project. Leaders Giving Back co-chairs, Dr. Jerry Rodenbarger and Dr. Rob Behrend, were on hand to celebrate the groundbreaking with other stakeholders and the community.
“It’s a privilege to co-chair this ‘Leader Giving Back’ portion of this entire project,” said Rodenbarger. “I wasn’t fortunate enough to grow up here and enjoy the park, but I’ve been here a lot of years now and it feels like home. This is just an absolutely fabulous place to raise a family.”
Behrend added, “We have an opportunity right now, kind of an opportunity of our lifetime, that we can see for the next 100 years. This is generational-type stuff that we have the opportunity to do for the next 100 years for kids in Valpo. This is a crucial start and this is the beginning of it, and when this field gets built we’re going to hit it out of the park. That’s what Valparaiso is all about.”
Both the Phase 1 ribbon cutting and the Phase 2 groundbreaking celebrations drew not only business and civic leaders involved in the project, but community members who were delighted to see local stars like Samardzija and Robbie Hummel, who played a key role in the initial phase. Valpo Parks Director of Development, Lisa Kusbel, was excited by the community reaction.
“It’s been lots of work getting everything scheduled and ready to come together today, and it still amazes me how many people come out, show their support, and want to give back to this community,” Kusbel said. “On a Thursday afternoon, a weekday, to have this many members of the community come out to celebrate with us was just amazing.”
Samardzija Field at Tower Park, located at 104 Billings St, Valparaiso, IN 46383, will be ready for use in the Summer of 2018.
The total costs of Phase I and Phase II is $800,000. Over 60 donors have joined the Leaders Giving Back Campaign and will be recognized with plaques on site. There is still time and need for a more partners. If you are interested in joining the Leaders Giving Back Campaign contact the Valpo Parks Foundation at www.valpoparksfoundation.org/ or by calling Valpo Parks at 219.462.5144.