Field of Dreams

Mosaics on the dugouts are the latest parts of Stoepel Park’s recovery

Stoepel Park 1 has seen better days, but it’s also seen a lot worse.

For years, The Rosedale Grandmont Little League (RGLL) — which serves some 600 children and their families each summer — has played an active role to maintain and preserve the four baseball diamonds in the 29-acre city of Detroit park, including the recent installation of mosaics on the dugouts.

Football teams, tennis fans, and picnickers did the same at their respective areas, as well. But the park — located between the Grandmont Rosedale and Brightmoor neighborhoods on Outer Drive — was also the target of anything from gang activity to joy riders driving across the ball fields.

The scrappy league mustered on, putting up with broken benches, stolen fences, and dirt infields and bumpy outfields that made every ground ball an adventure (aka “playing the Rosedale hop”).

That’s changed the past several years. A coalition of organizations led by the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation (GRDC) and RGLL have led efforts to renovate and enhance the park.

They’ve cobbled together help from the city and Wayne County along with the Brightmoor Alliance, the Detroit Tigers, the UAW, and the Baseball Tomorrow Fund. Greening of Detroit chipped in with a major planting several years back. The Detroit Lions help spruce up the football field.

Over at the ball fields, volunteers put in time digging posts and stringing up donated fencing, which serves to not only stop the joyriders, but it also gives the league’s sluggers a target and a chance to do an occasional home run trot. There’s also a walking path, and one of the infields even has grass.

The recently added dugouts have gotten a little love, too, in the form of a public art project.

Nationally known artist Hubert Massey worked with Little League players, coaches, and parents to come up with sketches of the mosaics that were installed on seven dugouts this summer.

Massey, who says he “majored in art and football” at Grand Valley State, attended Wayne State’s art education program and also studied in London at the Slade Institute of Fine Art.

He got his start as a sign painter for Gannett Outdoor before landing his first big commissioned work — the huge Greek at the Antheneum Suite Hotel downtown — more than 20 years ago. (Some of his other work can be seen at the Charles H. Wright Mu-seum of African American History, Paradise Valley Park, and Campus Martius.)

Before starting work on the mosaics, Massey met with community members and park users to survey their ideas. This year’s project was based on a creative arts program last year that paired kids with the blank walls, says Becki Kenderes, the sustainable communities program director at GRDC. In 2014, Massey worked with neighborhood youth enrolled in GRDC’s summer youth arts program to install the first mosaic on one of the eight dugouts.

Wanting to finish the remaining seven dugouts all at once was ambitious. It took donations large and small. What pushed it over the top was a crowd-funded $13,000, matched by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. A donation from the Erb Foundation helped reach the goal.

Getting the actual installation done was ambitious as well. So GRDC applied for student volunteers.

And in July, they landed a big helping hand in the form of Rise Up, a three-day national session of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Some 30,000 high school-aged youth and their adult leaders came to Ford Field and Cobo Center for five days of worship, fellowship, study, and service.

Every three years, the ELCA picks a city, says Alex Hoffner, a pastor from Trinity Lutheran Church in Tullahoma, Tenn. The past two gatherings were held in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Metro Detroit was happy to be chosen this year, says Barbara Debner, whose husband Jim is a senior pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Ann Arbor.

Debner, who acted as a “site captain” at Stoepel, notes that it was the first time in Detroit for the ELCA gathering — and for many young visitors.

Part of their gathering involved a “day of service.” The youth fanned out in 200-plus buses all over the city to perform projects that included helping clean up neighborhoods and boarding up abandoned houses, creating community gardens, painting and cleaning schools, packaging food, and helping install the Stoepel Park mosaics.

Massey did the sketches on the Stoepel dugouts, but a combination of ELCA and neighborhood volunteers installed all the tiles over a three-day marathon session.

So what’s next for Stoepel? The league dreams of grass on all four fields. Maybe someday there will be lights. Perhaps they’ll host a big tournament?

But for now, the dugouts at the slowly improving Stoepel Park not only offer shade from the sun and shelter to wait out rain delays, they’re also providing an inspiring piece of public art that reflects a community spirit.