Dom Cambareri, 62

Syracuse Challenger Baseball director talks about Carrier Park Field of Dreams, an inclusive and accessible sports complex project in East Syracuse

By Mary Beth Roach

In 2003 Dom Cambareri, 62, took over as volunteer executive director of Syracuse Challenger Baseball, a program for children and adults with special needs. Since then, he has helped to expand the program and worked for years with Dewitt Supervisor Ed Michalenko to develop an inclusive and accessible sports complex.

The site, dubbed the Carrier Park Field of Dreams, was developed at the former Carrier Corp. in East Syracuse. Cambareri and others have recently launched the third and final phase of their project, starting to fund to construct a superfield at the complex.

Q: When and why did you get involved in Syracuse Challenger Baseball?

A: When my son, Domenico, was 6 years old, we had heard about Challenger Baseball, geared to children with special needs. So we contacted the volunteer directors and inquired about a roster spot for Domenico that summer. When Domenico was 7, he got a chance to play, and it changed his life dramatically, and it certainly changed our [mine and my wife, Valerie’s] life dramatically as well because it was such an amazing experience for all of us.

In 2003, which was the third year of Domenico’s participation, I became the executive director. My wife and I had a conversation. We discussed what an amazing experience it was for Domenico, not only in terms of physically playing baseball, but he felt part of something bigger, he felt appreciated, and part of a group of his peers. The first thing I did was to open up the league to any family with any special needs player that wanted to play.

Q: You’re currently working on the last phase of the Carrier Park Field of Dreams, correct?

A: We completed the second phase in 2020. Now, Syracuse Challenge Baseball has partnered with the town of Dewitt for the most exciting phase. We call it our crown jewel — a six-diamond, state-of-the-art, fully turfed superfield with two Jumbotron scoreboards. The superfield would accommodate six little league or six Challenger games at one time; it could accommodate four softball games at one time; it could accommodate two 90-foot full baseball games at once; or two lacrosse, two soccer, two field hockey, or two football games at once, or one magnificently large Special Olympics outdoor event.

Q: When would you like to see that come to fruition?

A: If the fundraising goes as well as we hope, and we can partner with not only the private sector but a foundation or foundations, maybe get some assistance from Onondaga County or New York state, we would like to break ground in 2024. At the event on June 6 [the league’s opening day], we received a donation from the Lobdell family of $125,000, a donation from John and Laura Lally of $100,000, and the donation from the Jim and Juli Boeheim Foundation of $100,000, which allowed us to eventually raise more than $400,000 in two weeks. This superfield is a multi-million-dollar venture. It’s going to take a village in order for us to be able to do it, but we’ve done it before. And at the heart of it is the pure joy expressed by the faces of the Challenger baseball players, which have enamored every part of our community.

Q: What has your involvement meant to you?

A: First of all, I have utilized whatever abilities I have to provide my sons, Domenico and Antonio, a wonderful program in which Domenico can participate and play the amazing national pastime game of baseball and allows Antonio to be his mentor. As a father, there isn’t a greater joy that can be experienced than to know that your sons are participating in something that’s truly special and it has to do with baseball. The second piece of it is I feel that I have answered a special vocational call to make a difference in the lives of these families in this community. It’s important to me to be able to be an instrument that provides opportunity and hope to the families affected by Syracuse Challenger Baseball and the families of any young athlete, to be able to find a place where they are welcome and they play side by side with their peers.