Sixty miles from Citizens Bank Park, the night after the Astros combined for a no-hitter in Game 4 of the World Series, two-time MLB All-Star Todd Frazier took the mound himself at The RWJBarnabas Health Field of Dreams.
Unfortunately for Frazier, pitching in his namesake Special Needs Baseball League, any chance he had at a no-hit bid was squashed after the first batter. He didn’t mind, though.
“I got knocked around twice. They were seeing the ball so well on me,” Frazier said. “Underhand or overhand, these balls were being crushed.”
It was only six months ago that the one-of-a-kind inclusive sports complex held its grand opening in Toms River, N.J., after years of planning and fundraising -- and even a $50,000 donation from Frazier to help create the Todd Frazier Special Needs Baseball League.
Six months later and the complex -- which is equipped with a baseball field, basketball court, 9-hole miniature golf course, bocce and shuffleboard courts, and a playground area specially designed to be more accessible for wheelchairs and adaptive equipment -- is thriving in Frazier’s hometown.
“Every time I talk to a person after I give them a tour, I say, “Can you do me a favor? If you wanted to compare this place to something so that I can tell people what this place is like, could you tell me what it's like?” founder Christian Kane said. “And, crickets. You don’t hear anything, because it's unlike anything in the country. There's nothing like it.”
Kane, the driving force behind The RWJBarnabas Health Field of Dreams, along with his wife, Mary, have been overwhelmed with support. What started as an idea to create an inclusive space for their 12-year-old son, Gavin -- who suffered a life-changing traumatic brain injury 10 years ago -- turned into something bigger for not only the Kane family, but thousands of others in New Jersey.
“I think I'm averaging somewhere between 20 to 30 hugs a day,” Kane said. “It's just because these people are so grateful that now they have a place to go.”
Once a week over the past month, Frazier hosted his Special Needs Baseball League at the complex. Last week, nearly 60 participants were in attendance ranging from ages 9 to 38.
Frazier pitched to every single one of them. The complex is so close to his house, he figures he’s been there about 20 times since the grand opening to connect with the special needs community and give the Kane family a helping hand, whether that be financially or on the field.
Over the summer, Frazier hosted his first annual Pong Tournament and raised $30,000 to put toward the completion of the complex. It was around May that the Kane family was sitting around $300,000 short of their goal. After numerous fundraisers over the last few months and help from in and around the community, that number has now dropped to $102,000.
“I'm a big believer in giving back, whether it's time, whether it's money, whether it's putting a smile on somebody's face,” Frazier said. “I always think, like, if we can be as happy and go-lucky as some of these kids with special needs, the world would be a better place … it's something I want to do. It's something I love to do.”
With winter around the corner, the Todd Frazier Special Needs Baseball League is about wrapped up. One thing is for sure, though: Frazier has got some work to do on his pitch command before the league starts back up again in April 2023.
“Well, that’s why he played third,” Kane said. “I think he gave up 100 hits last night, but in return he got 100 smiles and countless memories that these kids, these adults, will have for the rest of their lives.”