By Mandy Bell
Jun. 11th, 2018

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NEW YORK — As an adult, it’s easy to forget how much fun the simplistic life of being a child once was. But the Muddy Puddles Project is here to remind us.

Cindy and Louis Campbell’s son, Ty, was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 2. While going through his treatment, they asked Ty what he wanted to do once he felt better.

Ty said, “I’m gonna jump in a muddy puddle,” just like his favorite cartoon Peppa Pig. Unfortunately, his health never improved enough for him to do so.

After their son lost his almost three-year battle with brain cancer in 2012, the Campbells asked those they knew to celebrate his life in the way Ty would have: by jumping in a muddy puddle. After receiving hundreds of photos of children playing in the mud, the idea for the Muddy Puddles Project was born. And now, each year the organization hosts a Mess Fest in Mahopac, N.Y., that allows children to participate in messy activities.

The Campbells threw a mini-Mess Fest at Mohawk Day Camp to begin the Yankees’ 10th annual HOPE Week. Not only was Ty’s cartoon hero Peppa Pig there, but Yankees manager Aaron Boone, bench coach Josh Bard, Brett Gardner, Sonny Gray and Didi Gregorius rode in on a small train and surprised all in attendance.

“It was so unexpected,” Cindy said. “I mean, this ceremony and the way the players came in it was such a surprise that I couldn’t control myself. I was crying. It was crazy. I just couldn’t control my emotions. It was so special.”

Boone stepped off the train and, after a few words, presented the Campbells with a $10,000 donation on behalf of the Yankees organization. The rest of the day was spent doing exactly what the Muddy Puddles Project promotes: having fun while raising awareness for pediatric cancer research.

“When my husband and I would talk about it at night, we would be like, ‘Could you imagine if one of the players were there and actually went in the mud?'” Cindy said. “And they did, and it was like every dream I could’ve ever had come true in his memory, because it would’ve been everything [Ty] would’ve wanted to see today.”

Gardner and Gray wasted no time getting into the mud pit before their manager later joined them. Gregorius took his turn at the end of the afternoon submerging himself in as much mud as he could.

“It was really cool,” Boone said. “It’s been a long time since I dove in the mud like that. It puts a smile on your face and makes you feel like a kid. To see this realization happen for Lou and Cindy is really nice.”

Participants could also receive a pie to the face, play in a sea of bubbles, throw water balloons or play Wiffle ball with some of the Yankees.

Although the mud pit seemed to be the fan favorite, 8-year-old Beckham Peterson had the most fun with the water balloons, where Gregorius spent most of his afternoon. Peterson and others loaded their arms with water balloons trying to soak as many people as possible, especially Gregorius.

“Beckham was really getting into it,” said Peterson’s father, Brian. “He doesn’t really use his arms a lot, because he’s had surgery on one and it’s sore, but he was throwing those water balloons. And now his fingers are super tired and he can hardly move them, but he’s totally loving it.”

Peterson has neuroblastoma and was in town for his monthly visit to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The Utah native stays at the Ronald McDonald House when in New York, and he heard about the Mess Fest that the Muddy Puddles Project was hosting Monday afternoon — on Peterson’s 8th birthday — and decided to attend. Wearing his birthday crown, Peterson watched his father and sister in the mud pit, before ending his afternoon sharing his birthday cake with the Yankees.

“We just found out that players were coming when we got here and thought, ‘Wow this is amazing, you don’t get to see a Yankee up close very often,'” Brian Peterson said. “They are like normal guys, which is pretty neat. They’ve been playing with my kids. My daughter was pouring mud all over Didi Gregorius. It was really fun.

“The get dirty, just have fun, be a kid message I think is really important. When you’re a kid with cancer, you go through a lot of crap. Just those things like getting dirty, you appreciate those things a lot more.”

The annual Mess Fest has hosted more than 10,000 people in its five years of existence, raising more than $800,000 for pediatric cancer research.

“The fact that this has come out of his loss makes it a little easier to cope every day knowing that there’s a lot of impact happening in his memory,” Cindy said. “He’s forcing change. He’s helping us. He’s giving us the tools we need to make a difference in his memory.”

Introduced in 2009, the Yankees HOPE Week initiative (Helping Others Persevere & Excel) is rooted in the belief that acts of goodwill provide hope and encouragement to more than just the recipient of the gesture.

“Each year we have five stories, so around 50 different stories now, and they’re all different in their own way,” Gardner said. “It never gets old. This is one when I heard about it, it was something I wanted to be a part of. Just a lot of fun to be a part of this today.”

“This is all it’s cracked up to be,” Boone said of his first experience with HOPE Week. “[Yankees director of media relations] Jason Zillo told me from Day 1, ‘This is the greatest thing we will do all year,’ and I think he’s right.”

Mandy Bell is a reporter for based in New York.