Rich Carroll, a coach and volunteer in Venice, died Friday.
An avid fan of sports and community, Carroll got his son, Rich Carroll Jr., involved in Venice Little League two days into his time in the city.
Eventually, Carroll became a coach, then the president of Venice Little League and helped coach the high school teams as well.
One day in the 1990’s Carroll read a brochure for Challenger Baseball — a baseball league that welcomes mentally and physically challenged players — and he shifted his efforts.
Venice Challenger Baseball began with Carroll and four athletes and eventually grew to roughly 150 active players each season.
“He’s amazing. He comes across as a rough and tough guy, but he has a heart of gold,” Susan Lomas, mother of Challenger player Sam said in 2019. “When you have a child with a disability, and people get involved who don’t have to, those people are amazing because they’re doing it from the goodness of their heart.
“It’s all been him. He’s been the catalyst and the heart of Challenger. There isn’t a kid who he doesn’t love or tease. He’s really the type of person who we all hope to meet in our walk of life. He gets it, he appreciates it and he respects them.”
Carroll worked with Challenger for 20-plus years as he raised funds for athletes to compete — with insurance, equipment, uniforms and food — for free.
Though his Challenger efforts were spent at the Chuck Reiter Little League Fields in Venice, Carroll fundraised more than $1 million over 10 years to build a ‘Field of Dreams’ that is scheduled to be opened this fall.
The new ballpark has a field created for Challenger players, eliminating any clay or dust, raised bases, grass — hazardous objects that could get in the way of playing baseball — along with a regulation field and a full complex complete with bleachers, restrooms and a playground.
Members of Venice Challenger Baseball recently met at the new complex for a July 4th celebration during which athletes and family members made “Get Well Soon” cards for Carroll.
The Challenger season is scheduled to begin in late September and the organization still needs more than $200,000 to complete its project.
Anyone interested in donating to Challenger baseball’s new ballpark can do so by making a check payable to Venice Challenger Baseball (229 Nokomis Ave S., Venice, FL, 34285).