As he was surrounded by 600 campers, including his two sons, Gregg LaPenna wiped tears from his eyes as a camp counselor started singing, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in his son’s memory.
They stood on a field at the Malibu Shore Club in Lido Beach, which was dedicated Thursday as Field No. 9 in memory of Lazar LaPenna. The Long Beach boy died April 29, after suffering an epileptic seizure during a Little League Baseball game in Point Lookout, two days after his 10th birthday.
Hempstead Town officials and day campers with Malibu Beach Camp honored the LaPenna family at the newly created athletic field at the Malibu Club by unveiling a plaque in memory of Lazar and a No. 9 in blue and orange pinstripes to recognize his lifelong love for the New York Mets.
Campers serenaded Gregg and Monique LaPenna with Phil Collins’ “You’ll Be in My Heart.”
“Come stop your crying / it will be all right,” they sang, before running the bases in Lazar’s honor.
Gregg LaPenna followed, sliding into home on the newly laid grass field. He said he never wants his son’s memory to fade away or be thought of in the past tense. He said he hopes Lazar’s memory raises awareness for epilepsy, which Lazar battled for several years.
“I just thought about him and what he would have wanted,” LaPenna said. “I see a lot of his friends and see the group he’s supposed to be in. It’s really beautiful. This is where he would want us to be. Not a day goes by we don't think about him.”
Lazar’s parents said he became overcome with excitement after knocking a base hit in the April game before he collapsed on the ground after running to first base. He died shortly after he reached the hospital.
The field was named for Lazar’s No. 9, a number he picked each year to match his age. The number quickly became his favorite number and the number he wanted to keep even after he turned 10, his dad said.
Lazar looked forward to Malibu Beach Camp every summer and went for five years. His brothers Gerry, 11, and Blaze, 7, still go to the camp and jumped in their parents arms after the ceremony.
“He would be over the moon,” Monique LaPenna said. “We just want to keep his spirit and name alive and want his brothers to remember him.”
The purple number quickly became emblazoned across Long Beach business windows in his memory.
“He was special. He loved baseball and was a gentle soul,” his mother said. “Every day is sad. Every moment is sad. He loved camp and every moment of every day is sad. We love celebrating his life and honoring him and are thankful for the outpouring of support in the community.”
The new fields at Malibu were added this year, converting old basketball courts into a grass soccer and baseball field, Malibu manager Butch Yamali said.
Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin told the LaPenna family that the dedication Thursday showed how many lives Lazar touched at such a young age.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for a legacy,” Clavin said. “This man at a young age clearly had an impact on a lot of people.”