FARGO - Deb Laber goes to the cemetery three or four times a week to visit her son.
It's about a 10-minute drive from her home, which is across the street from Jack Williams Stadium, a place where Jake Laber excelled for the Fargo Post 2 American Legion baseball team more than a decade ago.
Jake died last August from natural causes. A well-known local baseball figure, he was 30 years old. Deb feels the emotion each time she drives through the entrance at Holy Cross Cemetery in north Fargo.
"It's hard because when I'm turning the corner to go in, I'm already crying, but it's OK because I need that outlet," Deb said. "It's hard, but it's a good thing for me to do. I think I feel better after I've been there. ... I feel closer to Jake when I'm there."
Deb and her husband, Ken, plan to honor their son at the upcoming Fargo Marathon. More than 30 family members and friends are expected to participate in the "Friday Night 5K Hero Run" on May 19. The group will wear red T-shirts with "Laber" and his baseball number "19" printed on the back. Jake will be mentioned during the announcements for the 5K Hero Run, marathon executive director Mark Knutson said.
"It helps because there's this outpouring of Jake's friends and our families that have come together to walk," Deb said. "I think that's been really helpful to know that people really care."
Deb said family friend Gay Seelig and Jake's fiance, Karisa Gullickson, are helping to organize the group. Karisa and Jake were to be married less than a week after Jake died.
Karisa's parents, Kristi and Scott Gullickson, will also participate in the 5K.
"They mean a lot to us," Deb said. "We're still really close. It's difficult for them, too, going through this."
Jake, a 2004 Fargo North High School graduate, left a lasting imprint on baseball in north Fargo. He was a standout left-handed pitcher for North and Post 2 before a stellar college career at North Dakota State, blocks away from where he went to high school.
Jake retired from pro baseball following the 2014 season, after a seven-year career, spending six of those with the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, which plays in the same home stadium as NDSU. He set multiple pitching records for the RedHawks, including the most wins in franchise history.
"He was such a good person," Deb said. "People that knew him, knew him as a good person. That's what we are so proud of. I felt my purpose in life was to be a good mom. And Jake was a good person, so we can be very, very proud of that."
Deb and Ken said the support from family, friends and community has been heartwarming and overwhelming.
"Some people who expressed condolences, we didn't even know (them)," Ken said.
The North baseball team has Jake's "19" stitched into the back of its baseball caps. Mayor Tim Mahoney declared Aug. 19, 2016, Jake Laber Day for the city of Fargo. On that same day, the RedHawks honored Jake with an emotional pregame ceremony at Newman Outdoor Field. Jake was inducted into the Post 2 Hall of Fame in January. Ken and Deb received the award for their son at Post 2's annual banquet and received a standing ovation.
"Those things are more heartwarming than anything, that people in the community are here for us," Deb said. "I don't know that people realize how grateful we are for our friends and our family and the community. The community, when they just do a little thing, it means so much to us. Anybody that remembers Jake means so much to us."
Jake's headstone is less than 100 feet from the gravesite of another well-known Fargo baseball figure, Roger Maris. Maris hit 61 home runs for the New York Yankees in 1961 and also played for Post 2.
Deb has placed red flowers at Jake's headstone. That was his favorite color, she said. Others have left baseballs for Jake, some with messages written on them.
"That is so touching because you'll see a new baseball up there," Deb said.
Deb said parents who have lost children have reached out to her and Ken since Jake died. That has helped them cope with their loss.
"That's been very touching, and I would like to do that myself," Deb said. "I think that when you can talk to another parent who's gone through what we've gone through, they understand. They understand that you're not normal anymore. Your normal is now way down here. And that's the way it's going to be forever."
The Labers started an annual NDSU baseball scholarship for $1,000 in Jake's name to be given to a pitcher from the area. Deb and Ken are both retired. They said Jake's high school friends still come by to visit and show support.
Last Thursday, Deb said there was a game at Jack Williams and seeing all the players at the ballpark creates a mix of emotions. There is sadness because baseball reminds Deb and Ken of their son. Deb said it also feels good to be close to the game Jake loved.
"We have a good life, except we don't have Jake, which is the worst part, which makes everything empty and not as fun," Deb said. "We keep busy. We travel and we volunteer, but we are changed. We are empty inside."