NEW BRITAIN - Cracks of the bat and roars of cheer could be heard on the field at New Britain Stadium on Tuesday afternoon, despite the New Britain Bees game not starting for another four hours.
The cheers and excitement were from the participants of the Beautiful Lives Project, which was once again brought to New Britain Stadium to host guests with special needs from CCARC in New Britain and Journey Found in Manchester. The guests were treated to an hour of wiffle ball in left field with Bees manager Mauro Gozzo, hitting coach Chuck Stewart and a group of Bees players.
Bryce Weiler, the co-founder of the Beautiful Lives Project, helped organize Tuesday’s event, which has become a regular occurrence with the Bees through the summer months. The Beautiful Lives Project aims to give “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 limitation.”
“The staff is great,” Weiler said. “Mr. Gozzo and coach Stewart have been fantastic. I think it’s important having a manager and coach who are interactive and aren’t scared to interact with the fans.”
Gozzo and Stewart did just that, pitching to those participating and cheering them on while they ran the bases. Everyone who stepped up to the plate seemed to wear a smile, including Gozzo and Stewart.
“These are a blast,” Gozzo said. “We had a bad loss [on Monday], but this washes it away really quickly. When you see the smiles on their faces, it puts everything in perspective.”
The Bees also participated in a similar event with the Beautiful Lives Project on June 26 in Long Island, during the team’s series with the Long Island Ducks. Similar events were held at New Britain Stadium in early June, and more are scheduled for the end of this month and in August.
“Everyone really loves it,” Weiler said. “I’ve had groups come out multiple times. Journey Fountain was just out here last month.”
Weiler has held a passion for bringing the joy of sports to fans with disabilities since he sat on the bench at Evansville University for four years, taking in the game despite being blind since birth. The experience of taking in a sporting event without the use of his eyes sparked a desire in Weiler to give that experience to others. It has taken him to Camden Yards to host blind fans for Baltimore Orioles games (including Weiler throwing out the first pitch in 2016), and helped organize the Orioles to wear braille on the front and back of their jerseys last season.
Back in 2017, Weiler emailed Bees owner Anthony Iacavone to gauge his interest in hosting fans with disabilities on the field, and the initiative took off.
“He wanted to give me this opportunity to run these programs and help change the lives of people with special needs,” Weiler said. “Being able to sit on the basketball bench changed my life in college. I was able to be around players and coaches and I didn’t think it would be something I was able to do. I wanted to be able to give that back to others.”
Weiler’s day with the Bees continued into the evening after the wiffle ball came concluded and the Bees began to prepare for their game against the Somerset Patriots. Weiler migrated from the field to the press box, where he provided color commentary on the Bees’ radio broadcast, helping describe the action unfolding on the field. He will also throw out the first pitch later in the series and deliver a speech about how he is able to enjoy baseball despite being without his sight.
Weiler’s story, and the stories of every disabled fan running the bases in left field on Tuesday, inspired the Bees coaching staff, who are already looking forward to the next event.
“There are some special needs people out there would love to be out playing baseball,” Gozzo said. “To help give that to some of them and see the smiles on their faces levels everything out.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org