Sometimes all that’s needed to get an idea off the ground is a hometown connection, whether that idea be a small business, a community project or in Christian Kane’s case, a Field of Dreams. His hometown connection just so happened to be former MLB All-Star Todd Frazier.
This isn’t the Field of Dreams that might come to mind for many. It’s not surrounded by a cornfield, and it’s definitely not in Iowa. Named The RWJBarnabas Health Field of Dreams, it’s a one-of-a-kind inclusive complex in Toms River, N.J., where children and adults with special needs can have fun in a safe and welcoming environment.
With the help of Frazier and countless others, Kane’s idea -- nearly five years after its inception -- came to life this past weekend. And Kane did it all with his 11-year-old son, Gavin, in mind.
How it started
On July 12, 2012, Kane was driving when his vehicle was hit by a beer truck. Kane made it out OK, but Gavin suffered a traumatic brain injury that changed his life forever.
“He went from something to nothing,” Kane said. “To a point where a lot of doctors just told us, ‘Listen, you know, just put him in a home.’”
Kane and his wife, Mary, decided to take Gavin home and start the process of helping him get better. Gavin lost the ability to walk or talk on his own -- he communicates through a tablet -- but he’s just like any other kid. By the time he was around 5 or 6 years old, they started looking into a special needs baseball league.
There was just one problem: It was almost 90 minutes away, which is quite a trek for the family of eight.
“Why are we driving an hour and 20 minutes to play Challenger Baseball when we live in the mecca of baseball, in regards to youth baseball, in Toms River?” Kane asked himself. “So [I decided] I was going to start building a baseball field.”
Building just a baseball field didn’t seem right, Kane said, because so many of the places he tried to take Gavin to weren’t very inclusive. So he decided he was going to build a special needs complex unlike anything in the world -- one that included a playground, a basketball court and a number of other additions.
In the middle of all of this, Kane knew just who to call to help spread the word: Frazier, the hometown hero.
“He said, ‘Listen, we have an idea, something in the works. We're far, far away from anything happening. We want to get you involved,’” Frazier recalled of the conversation that happened around 2017.
From that moment, Frazier was in. The pair kept in touch, and in 2019 Frazier donated $50,000 to help create the Todd Frazier Special Needs Baseball League at the complex.
Frazier’s help in the project was mostly financial, but he used his platform to get more people involved. He’s even designing shirts for the kids to wear so they can feel like big leaguers.
“They deserve every inkling of that,” Frazier said.
Toms River’s own Field of Dreams held its grand opening on April 30 with nearly 500 guests in attendance. Gavin took the mound to throw out the ceremonial first pitch to Frazier.
Frazier, like Kane, said one of his favorite moments was seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces and helping kids swing the bat. The best part, though? It’s close to home.
“I could walk there if I wanted to, that's how close it is to my house,” Frazier said. “It just works out perfect, because I'm right down the street. I'm gonna go there, I'm gonna have fun with kids that need assistance and kids that just want to be, like I said, a big leaguer for a day.”
Kane said he could hardly hold on to Gavin as they were entering the complex -- that’s how excited he was.
He compared it to a moment just days before, when Gavin and Frazier took the field in Rutgers’ annual Scarlet-White spring game. Less than five yards away from the goal line, Frazier took the snap and handed it off to Gavin, who with the help of his dad snuck the ball into the end zone for the winning touchdown.
“Todd handed him the football, and I barely held on to him, because he knew what was going on. He knew what he wanted to do,” Kane said. “Which is a good feeling. That’s what you want. You're trying to create memories for him that were lost in that accident.”
While the complex has technically been opened, it’s not finished to where anyone can visit on a daily basis just yet. There’s still work to be done.
To turn this idea into a reality, Kane -- between teaching high school math, spending time with his family and creating the complex -- raised $2.2 million in cash and $3.6 million in total. However, he's still $300,000 short because of pandemic setbacks and inflation.
The Kanes gave up a lot to make this happen, so there’s no way they’re giving up.
“It seemed like all of a sudden, within two weeks, it went from nothing to something in a heartbeat,” Kane said. “Both my wife and I, we just always knew that this was going to be built one way or the other.”
Because if you build it, they will come.