‘Big kids’ get messy in the name of charity

Cindy Campbell and her 20-month old son, Bodhi. Campbell and her husband started the Muddy Puddles Project in 2013 in honor of their son, Ty, who died from brain cancer in 2012. Photographs provided by New York Yankees. All rights reserved.

We’re used to seeing our favorite baseball players with dirt on their uniforms. But on a recent visit to White Plains, Yankees stars were instead covered in mud. 

A group that included Yankees Manager Aaron Boone, shortstop Didi Gregorious, left fielder Brett Gardner and pitcher Sonny Gray visited Mohawk Day Camp on June 11 for a mini “Mess Fest.” The baseball stars spent the afternoon rolling in mud, being pelted by water balloons, tossing Wiffle balls and taking pies to the face from a group of children diagnosed with cancer, all to help raise money and awareness for the Ty Louis Campell Foundation and its fight against the disease. 

What brought the Yanks to the event was the wish foundation co-founder Cindy Campbell heard from her son, Ty, at a hospice care facility in 2012. Ty was 5 and had been diagnosed with brain cancer at age 2. 

“One of his favorite programs was ‘Peppa Pig,’ and I was just having this simple conversation with him and I asked, ‘What do you want to do when you get all better?’” Campbell recalls. “He said in this really soft, sweet voice, ‘I want to jump in a muddy puddle.’”

Ty passed away later that year following a struggle with a brain tumor that required him to endure 20 surgeries, 11 cycles of chemotherapy and 44 rounds of radiation. His positive attitude throughout that time earned him the nickname SuperTy. The simplicity of his answer that day in hospice stuck with Campbell, who imagined herself and other adults having much more exotic or grand ambitions.

 “His wish was just so simple, and it was really such a testament to how young he was and the way kids think,” says Campbell, a Pawling resident. “It makes you realize there are so many kids who just want to be kids.”

Ty’s family, which created the Ty Louis Campbell Foundation to combat childhood cancers in 2012, has worked to make his wish a possibility for as many children as possible. In 2013, Cindy and her husband, Louis Campbell, co-founded Muddy Puddles Project, which hosts an annual “Mess Fest” that raises money for the foundation. 

“Mess Fest,” Campbell says, is for “everything that’s off limits in the confines of their home. Let’s have this come to life for them.” That means thousands of kids and their families can spend a day of running in the mud, throwing paint, tossing pies and dodging water balloons. 

Aug. 4 will mark the sixth annual “Mess Fest,” hosted at Kiwi Country Day Camp in Putnam County. More than 10,000 people have attended “Mess Fest” and other Muddy Puddles events since its launch. 

The Muddy Puddles Project and Ty Louis Campbell Foundation have raised more than $1.2 million for strategic cancer research projects. Last year, Muddy Puddles became the charity partner of Ty’s beloved “Peppa Pig.”

Then the Bronx Bombers got in touch this year for their annual “Hope Week,” in which the team spends a week visiting and spotlighting charities in the area.

Yankees pitcher Sonny Gray at mini “Mess Fest” in White Plains.

For this year’s first “Hope Week” event, the Yankees reached out to Campbell, who suggested a “mini ‘Mess Fest,’” this one just for kids diagnosed with cancer. Camp Mohawk hosted and helped plan the event along with the Yankees. 

It wasn’t clear whether any players would actually attend, Campbell says. The event had already gotten underway when visitors were gathered in a circle. Yankees officials told them a surprise was coming before Boone, Gregorious, Gray and Gardner all came rolling in on a small train. Boone presented a check for $10,000 from the Yankees to the fund. 

“It was like they weren’t even famous,” Campbell says. “They just played with the kids all day. They were so giving. We had a birthday cake for a little boy,  Beckham. They blew out the candles with him.”

The Yankees gave the organization 100 tickets for the next day’s game against the Washington Nationals. Boone asked Campbell to throw the first pitch. 

It was actually a return for her to Yankee Stadium. While Ty was alive and healthy enough to travel, the family received Yankees tickets and a stadium tour through a friend — which ended with a surprise cameo from some Yankee legends. 

“As it just so happened to turn out, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada were walking out of a press conference, so we met in the hall and they went, ‘Is that Ty Campbell?!’ …someone had given them a heads up and it was just so cool. That, I thought, was my Yankees moment.”

Now she was on the mound at Yankee Stadium for a bittersweet moment, this time in honor of her son. There was some pressure, too. Boone had joked with her the day before that she “better throw a strike.” She hadn’t thrown a baseball in years. 

But as she prepared to throw one in front of thousands of people, she says she felt Ty’s presence.

“When I got to the mound, I wasn’t scared at all. Ty never threw a baseball. He was too young when he was diagnosed and too weak when he was in treatment. So I just felt like, of course, I’m going to throw this ball and I’m going to throw it for him, and, of course, it’s going to be fine.”

And where did it end up? 

“It went right into the mitt.”

For more, visit thetlcfoundation.org and muddypuddlesproject.org.

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