FIU honors a fallen hero by renaming softball field


FIU’s softball team will be playing at Felsberg Field, named in honor of Michael Felsberg, who died as a Marine in Iraq.

Before Sunday’s dedication, Arlene Felsberg looks out at the field now named for her son, Michael Felsberg.
Before Sunday’s dedication, Arlene Felsberg looks out at the field now named for her son, Michael Felsberg.
David J. Neal / Miami Herald Staff

Boynton Beach’s Paul and Arlene Felsberg knew little about FIU before their son Michael decided to attend FIU. Now, they refer to themselves as “adopted Panthers” and, after Sunday, the softball team plays on Felsberg Field at FIU Softball Stadium.

Because Michael, who died as a Marine in Iraq in 2004, listened to his mother and stuck to his plan.

Michael Felsberg came out of four years in the Marine Corps and, after a friend fell in love with FIU, he did the same in 1999.

“I just told him, ‘Please, it’s more than the books. Enjoy the entire college experience’ and he certainly did that,” Arlene Felsberg said. “FIU gave him more than an education. The friendship of everybody … administrators, teachers, students, athletic teams.”

Felsberg won the athletic spirit award three times as an enthusiastic supporter of his fellow athletes. The award, like the softball field and early season softball tournament, now carries the name of the former track and cross-country man. He and his mother, a former physical education teacher, bonded over sports.

Paul chuckled, “He said ‘Dad, I go to all the events because they’re free.’ 

(While there’s undoubtedly some truth to that, Michael also might have hoped to open lines of mutual support. Some athletes make the trek over to Biscayne Bay Campus to holler for the swimming and diving team, the other team without a facility on FIU’s main campus, because swim team members show up at almost every sport’s home contest.)

Anyway, Felsberg adored FIU.

“He very rarely would come home,” Arlene recalled. “An hour, hour and a half away, he’d come in, [go to] whatever family function we were having, do his laundry, take a nap, run and, ‘Oh, I’ve got to get back to campus.’ ’’

Felsberg made the All-Sun Belt indoor track team in the 5,000 meters. More impressively, the Sun Belt Commissioner’s List, a lauding of the conference’s best student athletes, included his name each of his four years and he graduated in 2003 with a 3.94 grade point average.

Criminal-justice degree in hand, Felsberg made the post-college move he had always planned on making: back to the Marines.

Paul said he and Arlene’s only child always had endurance. When Michael got the old-school punishment of running laps from a coach, he would run several more than his teammates. That’s why Paul suggested Michael go out for cross-country once the high school baseball coach “wouldn’t even talk to him.”

Young people with energy, discipline and intelligence tend to stay their course. Felsberg did until a rocket-propelled grenade attack took a remarkable young person’s life on Oct. 13, 2004, at age 27. A Bronze Star and a Purple Heart are among the awards he received while in the Marines.

The Felsbergs attend football games, the Felsberg Memorial Softball tournament and all the FIU athletic events they can, whether on the main campus or up at FAU. They’ve established a Michael Felsberg Scholarship Endowment for track at FIU.

An FIU athletic department spokesperson said the decision to name the softball field “Felsberg Field” came from athletic director Pete Garcia.

“When they first told us during the softball tournament they have, it was like turning on the waterworks,” Arlene said.

Her voice started tripping on several hiccups of emotion.

“We just can’t … the pride ... to think the University would even recognize him as such,” she said. “You think, you send your kid to college, he gets an education. But how he interacts with other people … we keep hearing anecdotes how he was interacting with certain people. All of this we weren’t aware of. To think that something’s going to outlive you. It just … all you can say is ‘proud.’ ’’

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