SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - What’s been a dream for almost a decade, has finally come true for a baseball league in Venice. Plus, it’s not just any group of players, but the Venice Challenger which was created for children with special needs. Their complex off of Gulf Coast Boulevard and U.S. 41 is now completed – just waiting for the day for them to play ball again.
“People all the time talk about a community effort. This is truly a community effort. Our whole community, the county, state, the city of Venice, everyone pitched in to make this a reality,” expressed Coach Rich Carroll, the founder of Venice Challenger baseball.
Coach Carroll tells us this complex, now known as the Field of Dreams, has been in the works for about eight years now. He says it was a direct result of the Suncoast community stepping up to the plate and donating more than a million dollars to make this happen.
“It’s so nice! I can’t wait to play baseball again. I’ve just been staying home, and I wanted to come back. This is a great place, and I love it here,” exclaimed Brandon Castellana.
Brandon Castellana is one of 135 players with special needs who will soon be able to play ball at this new facility. He and his teammates had not seen each other in months because of the pandemic.
“It’s been hard. I mean he has asked me every single day when are we going to start? And I’m like I don’t know,” said Brandon’s mother, Amy Castellana.
That’s why the leaders behind the Venice Challenger Baseball planned a drive-by reveal of the field of dreams to get them to see what’s waiting for them – once this is all over.
“To be able to bring players and their families out. They are missing this socialization. They’re missing the baseball. They’re missing Coach Rich, and their missing their sense of community that this Field of Dreams has produced for them,” Mary Apostolu, a parent and volunteer for Venice Challenger, tells us.
The complex was built to have two fields that are safe and accessible - specifically designed to overcome the challenges of playing on regular fields for these athletes. So, how soon will they be stepping up to bat?
“Our plan is when it’s safe. Ours is uniquely different than everyone else to open as part of Phase 3. Our kids are all huggers. How do I tell a kid with autism that he can’t hug me? That he has to stay six feet away from me,” explained Coach Carroll.
“We just can’t wait to get them back here to be able to enjoy it, but what an awesome, historic day for Challenger Baseball,” said Karen Riccardi, staff member of Venice Challenger.
While the baseball fields and park have officially been completed, Venice Challenger Baseball is still hoping to raise $200,000 more to be able to buy lights for the complex. Information on how to donate can be found here.