The daily reminders surround Ryan DeBoy.
The unoccupied half of the bedroom that the Central Catholic senior once shared with his younger brother, Jimmy. The ill-fated intersection, just a block and a half from the family’s home. The baseball diamond on the school campus, named Field 51 in tribute to Jimmy’s uniform number.
Some days, they trigger solemn memories of a loss no family should endure. Jimmy DeBoy’s sudden death in July 2006 stunned the Lafayette baseball community.
On other days, they help Ryan relive a happy youth spent on ball fields and basketball courts with his brother and best friend.
Every game for the past two seasons, Ryan carried a reminder to the field. The first baseman will wear Jimmy’s No. 51 for the final time Saturday when the Knights play Vincennes Rivet in the Class A state championship game at Victory Field in Indianapolis.
“Some days it’s tougher than others,” Ryan said. “Some days the memories are more alive in my mind and I’m thinking more about things.
“But then other days, it reminds me that every day I have a reason to go out and give my best effort. Every day I have a reason to fight for something, to do it in his honor, to make him proud in some sense.”
The middle child of Mike and Cathy DeBoy’s five children, Jimmy was born into an athletic family.
In a grassy area of Lafayette’s Highland Park neighborhood known as “The Triangle,” the brothers played, competed and, as brothers will, argued. Though younger than Ryan by two years, Jimmy fit right in with his brother’s circle of friends.
“He was the most fun-loving kid I’ve probably ever met,” said Evan Kennedy, a CC junior catcher and one of Jimmy’s best friends. “It was the highlight of everybody’s day when they got to hang out with him.”
Mike DeBoy ran cross country and track at Lafayette Jeff and was a respected baseball umpire for many years. The family’s oldest child, Katie, runs cross country at St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer.
Tim Bordenet, Central Catholic’s baseball coach, remembers Jimmy attending baseball camps and standing out as the hardest worker, even though he also may have been the most talented player in his age group.
“I don’t think anybody loved the game more than Jimmy,” Bordenet said.
No player more captured Jimmy’s love of baseball than Ichiro Suzuki, at the time the Seattle Mariners’ speedy star right fielder. His admiration was great enough to indirectly alter years of tradition in Lafayette youth baseball.
Uniform numbers in youth leagues traditionally ran from 1 into the low teens. But as Jimmy prepared to enter Pinto League, Joe Casasanta, owner of sporting goods store The Athlete, gave him Suzuki’s number: 51.
“Everybody who saw him at the ballpark, they called him, ‘Ichiro,’ called him ‘51,’ Mike DeBoy said. “So everybody knew who he was. He kind of broke the mold. Now everybody requests their number and gets their own number.”
'So I wouldn't see'
July 12, 2006, should have been a routine summer Wednesday for the DeBoy family. Ryan’s carefree itinerary began in typical fashion with a fishing trip to Armstrong Park with friend Timmy Mills.
Bored, they headed to the trampoline-equipped home of another friend, Matt Thieme. That’s where Ryan’s uncle, Matt Spencer, showed up to deliver bad news.
“I didn’t think of it at the time, but he didn’t bring me down Ninth Street, where it happened, which would be the quicker way,” Ryan said of the drive home. “He brought me all the way around, so I wouldn’t see anything.”
Jimmy was riding his bike with three other children about 3 p.m. when a car driven by Cesar De La Rosa of Lafayette went over the curb near South Ninth and King streets. The Chevrolet Impala struck Jimmy, dragging him along the sidewalk and King Street and coming to rest on the slope of a lawn.
Rescue workers raised the car with a jack and wooden slabs and posts and rushed Jimmy to Home Hospital, where the 9-year-old was pronounced dead at 3:44 p.m.
Emotions overwhelmed 11-year-old Ryan. Confusion. Grief. Anger toward De La Rosa, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison after pleading guilty to operating a vehicle while having a controlled substance — in this case, marijuana — in his blood, a Class B felony. Forgiveness for a driver who made a horrible mistake.
“At the time, I was so in shock, I couldn’t begin to realize what exactly happened,” Ryan said. “It was like a bad dream I couldn’t wake up from, and I just didn’t want to admit it actually happened. When I grew up, a few years later, it finally just hit me that he’s not with us anymore.”
Almost immediately, Ryan paid tribute to his brother through sports.
Jimmy held the rare distinction of being a left-handed catcher, a position Ryan also played. In the first tournament after the accident, right-handed Ryan wore Jimmy’s left-handed glove for the first out of the game, catching a called third strike.
Ryan’s team came out of the loser’s bracket to win that tournament. The cardboard bracket today hangs on the wall of the bedroom the brothers shared.
Ryan wore No. 51 in Jimmy’s honor for the first time the next summer. Ryan Gerkey, Central Catholic’s former assistant coach, asked Mike DeBoy’s permission to wear the number with the Knights in 2007, saying he felt the number should be represented in the school’s program.
But that uniform did not fit Ryan when he arrived at Central Catholic, so he spent two seasons as No. 18. Before his junior season, some of Ryan’s relatives asked Bordenet if they could purchase a new set of jerseys. He’s written No. 51 into the lineup ever since.
“Just to think about how Ryan has to go through that, and each and every day he steps out on the field playing for not only himself but Jimmy — to see that, it touches me,” senior Cowan Olinger said.
Ryan’s middle-of-the-order bat and glove at first base played essential roles in Central Catholic’s drive to a fifth straight Class A state championship game. Batting .291 with team highs in home runs (4) and runs batted in (36), he has developed a reputation for confidence in the clutch.
On May 1, Central Catholic exchanged its customary blue jerseys for orange ones in support of a classmate, Patrick Mackey, recently diagnosed with leukemia. The game against Hoosier Conference rival Delphi went into extra innings tied 1-1, and the Oracles took the lead with two runs in the top of the ninth.
But the Knights rallied, and Ryan’s single drove in Jackson Anthrop for a 4-3 baseball victory.
“You know he’s going to be able to do something when he comes up at the plate, no matter the situation,” senior Andrew Hubertz said. “He’s come up at the plate in some keys spots, and he’s come up for us big.”
DeBoy saved his most dramatic moment for the penultimate regular season game on May 18. The Knights took a 3-2 lead into the seventh inning, but Cass scored four runs and appeared poised to ruin Central Catholic’s senior night.
The Knights scored a run and loaded the bases for Ryan, who to that point had struggled during an 0-for-3 performance. Ryan sent a 2-2 pitch to deep left-center — yes, in the direction of Field 51 — and over the wall at Leming Field for a walk-off grand slam.
The 8-6 victory kept alive the 14-game winning streak Central Catholic takes into Saturday’s state championship game. As Mike and Cathy DeBoy drove to a tournament in which their son, Nicholas, was playing that night, they received a text message from Bordenet.
It read: “Jimmy was smiling down on Ryan today.”
“As soon as I saw Ryan round the bases, I immediately had a flashback to Jimmy,” Bordenet said. “I could see Jimmy in Ryan’s face as he was coming around the bases. It was something special, something I’ll never forget.
“I told Mike and Cathy, of all the special moments I’ve had in baseball, that was the most special moment for an individual that I’ve ever been a part of.”
Almost seven years after the accident, Jimmy DeBoy’s spirit remains alive.
Every May, the Lafayette Lightning host the Jimmy DeBoy Classic, with proceeds going to upkeep of Field 51. Youth baseball players from all over the city use that field and its batting cages to play the game that Jimmy loved.
Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, sponsored a bill that in 2008 became the Jimmy DeBoy Law. It made operating while intoxicated and causing death a Class A felony, and causing serious bodily injury a Class B felony.
The same tributes displayed by the community in 2006 — royal blue wristbands known as “Jimmy bands” and windshield decals with the No. 51 on a baseball adorned with angel wings — remain prevalent today.
“Just when you think it’s over, somebody sees me and says ‘Hey, do you have any more of those Jimmy bands?’ ” Mike DeBoy said. “When people get new cars they say, ‘Hey, I’ve got to have a new 51.”
Mike once looked forward to watching both sons play for Central Catholic. He imagines smiling as play stopped so young Jimmy could pinch-run for his big brother.
Instead, for the past two seasons, Mike’s favorite part of Knights games has been the national anthem, as Ryan stands on the field wearing No. 51 while Jimmy’s No. 51 flag flies beyond the center field wall.
That flag is changed once a year. One hangs in Ryan’s bedroom — the one he shared with Jimmy.
“Every day’s a new reminder,” Ryan said. “I wake up, eat breakfast, but then he’s there on my mind.
“It reminds me I have to live this day the way he would want it. Not the way that would be easiest for me, but the way I should, because that’s the way it would be done right.”