Baseball star shines spotlight on children with autism

Eight-year-old Aubrey White can do anything she puts her mind to: swim, dance, and pitch first at a baseball game.

Her father, Robbie White, held her tight at Alex Box Stadium, where she tossed a baseball to one of the nation’s best players: Dylan Crews.

But for White, Crews isn’t the 2021 National Collegiate Freshman of the Year or a preseason All-American; he is a friend. White has nonverbal autism and suffers from seizures. And the first time her parents heard her speak was when they were watching an LSU (Louisiana State University) baseball game on TV last year. As Crews stepped onto the plate, White cheered, “Dylan Crews!”

“She wasn’t saying ‘Momma or Daddy,’ and all of a sudden she started saying ‘Dylan Crews,’ and she kept repeating it and running around the house,” her mother Crystal said. “We celebrated because we were just so proud of them.”

Crystal posted the video to Facebook and one of the LSU baseball parents sent it to Crews. His father, George Crews, bought the family tickets to the game. It was there that Crews first met Aubrey in person.

“Our relationship has grown stronger, she gave me these bracelets and I wear them every day to represent her and her family,” Crews said. “I try to give back as much as possible.”

A special bond

Crystal wasn’t sure if Aubrey would pitch the field.

Aubrey threw the ball into the dirt right in front of her, and as it rolled, Crews picked it up and slapped her on the back.

“Aubrey is a special girl and she means everything to me,” Crews said. “Whether it’s giving back to my community or others, I want to convey a sense that I have a different purpose in this world than baseball.”

After meeting Aubrey, Crews wanted more children with special needs to have the opportunity to come to a baseball game.

Now, the Crews family is buying four slots in Section 202 so families can come to every home baseball game at Alex Box this year.

Crystal helps with this and says the community is tight-knit. She keeps a list of the dates on her phone and mails the home schedule to families she knows and they get their pick of which game to come to. As a parent, she eases their concerns when it’s their first time, and many come back to the games of their own accord.

That means more than people know, not only because families with special needs children are often concerned about accessibility or how their children will react to being at sports venues, but because they are often simply not invited.

The teams sign autographs before each game and take photos with the children in the right field. He wore their signatures at a game and in the game against Auburn wore a pair of white shoes with their autographs in different colors.

And he’s made every effort to keep in touch with Aubrey — he missed her Dylan Crews-themed birthday party last June but made sure to FaceTime her when he got off the bus at the Super Regional in Tennessee . He also went with LSU coach Jay Johnson to the opening of the all-ability Team of Dreams field in Gonzales, where Aubrey plays adaptive baseball.

chance of a lifetime

The tickets offered by the Crews family are making a lasting impression because now families across the state have the opportunity not only to go to a baseball game, but to learn that the games are both fun and accessible enough to return.

And they will go the distance. On Saturday, Abby Benjamin drove three hours from Mangham with her five-year-old daughter, Avery Joy, to her second LSU baseball game of the week.

“She couldn’t stop smiling,” Benjamin said. “I think a college guy who’s such a great athlete and makes him think of other people is special to have those kinds of memories.”

Kodi Wilson, who traveled from Prairieville, was also at Saturday’s game with her six-year-old daughter, Leila. Her son Brayden, 15, has Leigh syndrome and was home with a nurse, but she said the tickets allowed Wilson and her family to rekindle their love of baseball. It was the second baseball game she had attended in 20 years.

“We live such isolated lives, so it’s all just being invited in and being treated like normal,” Wilson said. “People see our children and they don’t understand.” – The Advocate, news service Baton Rouge/Tribune

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