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09/19/08 11:12 PM ET

Gott revolves life around autism

Former Dodgers reliever and wife created 'Danny's Farm'

ALTADENA, Calif. -- When former Dodgers reliever Jim Gott found out he had a pair of autistic sons, he had a tough time dealing with it at first.

During Family Days at Dodger Stadium, he would watch with envy as his teammates' sons took perfect swings, something his autistic children would never do.

"I was looking for the exact same thing," Gott said. "It was a tough thing to have to kind of reevaluate things and accept them for what they were. It was great, it was a great teaching lesson for me just understanding that my son wasn't going to be the Major League ballplayer that I was or have those aspirations that a lot of the players' kids have at that time."

Now Gott's life revolves around autism, as he and his wife Cathy created "Danny's Farm," a petting zoo and facility for kids from all walks of life with special needs and disabilities. Gott and his wife run the place, but they also bring in special needs counselors to work with the children and host an educational component called "Education Spectrum," which teaches basic social skills.

The farm is named for Gott's 15-year-old son Danny, who has always gravitated toward animals and is the inspiration behind the farm.

ARI: Travis Lee | ATL: Mark Lemke
BAL: Chris Hoiles | BOS: Bill Lee
CHC: Randy Hundley | CIN: Eric Davis
CWS: Dan Pasqua | CLE: Dave Burba
COL: Curtis Leskanic | DET: Steve Sparks
FLA: Charlie Hough | HOU: Doug Drabek
KC: Mike Macfarlane | LAA: Rick Reichardt
LAD: Jim Gott | MIL: Don Sutton
MIN: Kevin Tapani | NYM: Ed Kranepool
NYY: Jim Abbott | OAK: Ben Grieve
PHI: Tommy Greene | PIT: Barry Jones
STL: B. Tewksbury | SD: C. Hernandez
SF: Brian Johnson | SEA: Henry Cotto
TB: Doug Creek | TEX: Dave Hostetler
TOR: Alex Gonzalez | WAS: W. Fryman

Gott understands the difficulties parents of autistic children go through in trying to find suitable extracurricular programs for their kids, who have trouble fitting into normal social situations. For example, Gott remembers not being able to take his now 20-year-old son C.J. and Danny to programs such as "Mommy and Me" and "Jamboree" and having preschools tell him his children's behavior does not fit into their program.

"It's very stressing for a family when you're trying to just find some comfort for your child and a place for them to fit in, so what this is able to do is we've got families that are able to bring their kids for their first experience to be around other animals or first experience to be in a camp setting, in a classroom kind of setting," Gott said.

Special needs adults tend to the petting zoo, which is open for birthday parties, giving them an opportunity to earn a paycheck. The farm is where Danny will get his first work experience when he's old enough to do so.

The petting zoo includes the sights, sounds and smells of roosters, chickens, goats, sheep, pigs, guinea pigs and tortoises, some of which were brought in from distressed situations.

"This is again a place where everyone is safe and loved," Gott said.

Michael Schwartz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.