‘Really special’: Illinois Center for Autism kids play ball with Gateway Grizzlies

Members of the Gateway Grizzles made a dream come true Wednesday for children from the Illinois Center for Autism.

Pitcher Andrew Reidt, infielder Will DuPont and manager Phil Warren played baseball for about two hours at Catch 22 Field in Moody Park with about 20 special-needs kids from the center.

“This is a great opportunity for these kids to get to go outside on a beautiful, sunny day and do something they wouldn’t usually get to do,” Illinois Center for Autism spokeswoman Rachel Newsome said. “We tried to do this last year but the weather wouldn’t cooperate. It has been such a success that we’re hoping to do it every year from now on.”

The game will be played every April, which is Autism Awareness month.

Children who played in the game said it was a thrill of a lifetime.

Jacob, 13, said he was excited not only to play some baseball but also to meet professional baseball players and the Grizzlies mascot, Izzy.

“I’ve never seen a pro athlete up close before,” Jacob said. “I got some autographs and had a chance to talk to them. I want to be a pro baseball player some day. So I hope they noticed that I got a couple good hits.”

Missy, 20, said Wednesday was the first time she ever played baseball.

“I didn‘t do too bad,” Missy said. “I got a hit and ran the bases. But my favorite part was that the field was so pretty and it’s such a nice day.”

ICA principal Sandra Rodenberg said the baseball game was not only a great break for the children from their normal day in school. It was a great chance for the kids to exercise their social skills.

The children cheered for the classmates every time they heard the crack of a solid hit and every time someone came home with a run, even though no one was keeping score.

Reidt, who was with the St. Louis Cardinals in spring training before being released and catching on with the Grizzlies, said he had a great time playing. But it was even more rewarding to see the children have a good time.

“Seeing the smiles on their faces made it really special to be here,” Reidt said. “To them, we are the Cardinals. So I’m glad that we could do something to help give them a great day.”

Newsome said the Grizzlies have been huge supporters of the Illinois Center for Autism for several years, providing players for events, as well as tickets and other items for fundraisers and publicity for the organization.

“They’ve been a great friend to us,” Newsome said. “And they’re a great friend to have.”