June 06, 2012 - By Trevor Keiser
Diamond Dawgs Head Coach Keith Stironek and his son Casey. Photos by T.Keiser (click for larger version)
While driving past Friendship Park on April 15, just a day after his friend and teammate Joseph Cooper Salsberry (Cooper) collapsed and passed away during warm-ups, Casey Stironek looked at his mom and said "wouldn't it be special if we could get that field named Salsberry field?"
That got the wheels turning for Stironek, 12, and many of his teammates on the Lake Orion Diamond Dawgs to write a letter to the Orion Township Board requesting the name change of the field.
"It would be a very nice memorial of Cooper for us and the youth baseball teams to come. It will help us never forget about Cooper and the great teammate he was," wrote Stironek. "I also think it would be a way to motivate us to play harder and win for Cooper."
Stironek's mother, Deena Centofanti, also had a stack of letters from other teammates.
"It would be considerate to name the field after Joseph cooper Salsberry because he died here," wrote teammate Nick Duerden. "He was a very nice person and naming the field after him would be a tribute to this memory."
"We will miss Cooper a lot," wrote Ryan Cooper. "The Diamond Dawgs will miss his smiles, laughs, great plays and hits."
"I would know that Cooper would always be there cheering us on and in our hearts," Zac Erwin said. "It would just make me feel happy that whoever we play there, Cooper will be watching over us."
"Cooper was a special kid," wrote Nick Butterworth. "He was great at cheering people up and getting them motivated."
"You named it Friendship Park so people could make friends and have fun," said teammate Jon Haggitt. "Cooper represented all of that. He was a very special person."
Teammate John Marshall who played both baseball and hockey with Cooper said he was a great teammate and one of his best friends.
"I really miss him and I have promised to play my best in his honor on both teams."
After watery eyes and heartfelt speeches by coaches and parents the board granted their request by a unanimous vote at the May 21 meeting.
"It's been tough, but we know Cooper would want us to keep going," Stironek said. "He wouldn't want us to not play baseball anymore because of him."
His dad and head coach Keith Stironek agreed.
Cathy Hopkins, didn't know Cooper or his family, very well, but she does know the importance of renaming a field, because field number two was named after her husband Tom Hopkins, who was active in Lake Orion baseball for many years and was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease in 2007.
"Every father's day since we lost Tom, my three kids and I go to Hopkins Field and run the bases in honor and memory of Tom," she said. "It's a place where I go by myself to reflect and remember Tom and look forward to the day when I can watch my grandchildren play on that field."
Diamond Dawgs Head Coach Keith Stironek agreed and said he wants field three to be a place of remembrance.
"It's going to be more than just dirt, grass and a fence," he said. "It's going to be a place that has meaning."
Also in honor of Cooper the team had patches sewn on their uniforms with Salsberry's number 16, his initials and Luke 12:48 the Bible scripture he lived his life according to which says "too whom much is given, much is required."
The Lake Orion Youth Baseball League, which Diamond Dawgs is not a part of, also made hundreds of stickers with Cooper's number for teams to put on the back of their helmets.
There is a bunch of teams running around with a number 16 on the back of their helmet as a tribute to Cooper," Keith said. "It was a very classy move by Lake Orion Baseball."
Twelve year-old Cooper was and Oakland Township resident and Van Hoosen Middle School sixth grader. He is known by friends, family and teammates not only for his athletic ability in both baseball and hockey, but for his optimist attitude.
Assistant Coach Geoff Marshall said he "couldn't express in words what an outstanding young man Cooper was."
"He positively touched the lives of far more than people five times his age could ever hope to in a lifetime," he said. While his sudden loss in an unthinkable tragedy, those whose lives he touched understood what a gift and privilege it was to know him. We all feel blessed to have him in our lives, even if just for a moment."
Given the way Cooper lived his life, Marshall said naming the field after him was more than appropriate.
"Cooper will never be forgotten. He can and will continue to set an incredible example and inspire others," added Marshall. "I cannot think of a better way to pay it forward than for the young man who did that everyday."
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.