Beautiful Lives Project brings people with disabilities onto field with Revs, Barnstormers

Dante Green
York Dispatch

York Revolution infielder Nellie Rodriguez tosses the ball back and forth with a young boy. The ball whips through the air as he launches it, as if were a high pop-up.

The boy, with his blue cap, looks high into the air, blocking out the sun with one hand, a wide smile on his face as he searches for the ball. He doesn’t come down with it, but it doesn’t matter as he picks the ball up and tosses it back to Rodriguez. 

Rodriguez's sunglasses cover half his face, but what's visible is in a wide beam, a smile as big as when he hits a home run. He realizes the importance of the moment and what it means to any kid to play with a professional ball player.

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That was just one of the many special moments that took place Wednesday afternoon at PeoplesBank Park in downtown York. The Revolution helped host an event created by the Beautiful Lives Project, where more than 60 people with disabilities played on the field with players from the Revs and Lancaster Barnstormers. 

Bryce Weiler, co-founder of the Beautiful Lives Project, created the event and helped set it up between his organization and the ballpark.

Beautiful Lives Project “gives people with disabilities the opportunity to actively participate in activities and events that may not have been available to them previously due to physical or facility limitations,” according to its mission statement.

Weiler said that he hopes to provide those with disabilities the confidence to continue to strive for their dreams.

“I want them to gain the confidence to go out and to live their dreams and go break down the barriers and obstacles that every person with his or her own disability faces," Weiler said.

Making an impact: Rodriguez said events like  Beautiful Lives Project's put everything in perspective for him.

"You're reminded of how blessed you are. Sometimes you can take it for granted, but this is why we play. The fans are who we play for. You just want to leave an impact behind for them,” said the first baseman.

Weiler, who was born blind, has aimed to provide those with disabilities a chance to play sports and build relationships with the players.

Weiler said he will never forget the chance he was given by former Evansville basketball head coach Marty Simmons to sit on the end of the bench. That gave Weiler the chance to experience sports at a personal level. Before games, he played with the team and shot around, rebounding as well. Weiler said it was one of the more important moments of his life and one of the reasons he become involved with Beautiful Lives.

Weiler graduated as a double major from the University of Evansville, studying sports management and sports communications. He also has his masters degree from Western Illinois in sports administration and is a disability consultant with the Baltimore Orioles.

Eager to help: Mark Mason and Ross Peeples, who both coach Atlantic League teams, are friends of Weiler's and have helped him to set up this event since 2017. Back then, Mason responded to an email sent by Weiler asking for the event to take place at their ballpark.

Mason said it was important for him to continue the event with Weiler even after they had taken a break over the last two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for us and the community. It gives the players what people go through on a daily basis and puts everything in perspective. It is also an opportunity for those with disabilities to continue pursuing the dream and have an experience that they will remember forever,” said Mason.

Peeples, a former special education teacher, said that he appreciated what people like Weiler are trying to do.

“This is special and something I want to continue to be a part of. Just to be able put the smiles on the faces of the people here is something you never take for granted,” he said.

Wednesday, baseball pros played catch with people with disabilities. They helped those in wheelchairs have first-hand experience of what it was like to round the bases and held batting practice to give tips on how to hit the ball and swing the bat.

Weiler made a speech to both teams in their respective locker rooms after the events. There, he encouraged the players to remember that there were people who would never get to experience what they have and to use their platforms for positive change, saying the event was for the players as well as those with disabilities.

Mason said it is an event that he can see spreading to other teams in sports.

“Other clubs and even more sports have the power to do something similar to this. It wouldn’t surprise me to see that happen across the board,” he said.