'It's gonna be a great thing': Yankees' DJ LeMahieu finances Royal Oak summer team
DJ LeMahieu moved all around the country as a kid, but he developed a special bond with Metro Detroit — and it's one that he is making sure will last a long time.
The New York Yankees All-Star and Gold Glover confirmed this week what has long been a poorly kept secret: He is the financial backer behind the Royal Oak Leprechauns, a college wood-bat team that plays its inaugural home opener June 5.
The Leprechauns, a member of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League, will play at Memorial Park at 13 Mile Road and Woodward Avenue. The park has been heavily renovated, with new Astroturf, dugouts, fences, bullpens, stands and more.
The renovation cost about $400,000, backed by LeMahieu, the former Birmingham Brother Rice star who this offseason signed a six-year, $90-million contract.
"I just want to be a part of the game," LeMahieu said in a video posted by the Leprechauns on Tuesday. It was taped over the weekend, with the Yankees in town.
"Brother Rice helped me out tremendously, this area helped me out tremendously. I'm gonna be around this area for a while.
"I'm just trying to be a part of it."
LeMahieu, 32, got involved in the project through his connection to Mark Sackett, the Leprechauns' team president. They knew each other from the youth baseball scene years ago, LeMahieu playing against Sackett's kids.
The Royal Oak idea, born in 2018 and approved by the city in 2019, actually was bagged when sponsors proved elusive. Then COVID-19 hit in 2020.
On Dec. 3, Sackett got a call from LeMahieu. He wanted to help. The exact details of the financial agreement aren't public, though LeMahieu's stake is substantial.
Renovations on the field, none of which are being paid by the city, began in mid-May.
"My experience with collegiate baseball, summer baseball, I played in the Cape Cod League and it was one of the most fun summers I had playing baseball," said LeMahieu, who played at LSU. "When I saw Mark Sackett had a team and he wanted to move it to Royal Oak and give the community a team here, I was super excited about that.
"Just the passion he had to have this team here, I got super excited, and I wanted to be a part of it, as well. I'm really excited to see where this goes. It's gonna be a great thing."
The team was previously based in Adrian, as the Irish Hills Leprechauns, but had trouble generating any fan interest.
A bigger population center from which to draw from in Royal Oak and the surrounding communities was the reason behind the move. Memorial Park will be able to seat at least 600, hold 200 more, and will even have three hospitality areas. Tickets are $5 or $7, and the team will be able to sell beer and wine at its games. There will be 21 home games, running through June and July.
The team has an agreement with the city for 10 years. Sackett was given carte blanche with the ballpark, and the city will benefit for use by sandlot leagues, tournament and corporate events.
The roster features many in-state college baseball players, including four from Michigan State and one from Wayne State.
LeMahieu said kids, especially, will enjoy watching the Leprechauns, just like he enjoyed watching older kids play when he was a youngster in the area.
"A lot of people grew up playing in this park and on this field, and to have a collegiate team with some fans, lights, a scoreboard, I think it's a really cool thing," LeMahieu said. "For those kids to come here and watch some good baseball, I think, is pretty cool."
This is the second youth-baseball-related venture for LeMahieu in the last year. In March, he purchased Brother Rice's baseball facility and agreed to lease it back to the school for $1 a year, and he plans to build a youth baseball facility on the Troy property.
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