Longtime friendship inspires Olson's charity event

Braves host second annual Diamond Casino Night in support of ReClif community center

January 13th, 2024

ATLANTA -- led the Majors in both home runs and RBIs this past season. But those who have been introduced to the bond he has built with Reece Blankenship know his value and contributions extend far beyond the baseball field.

Blankenship has non-speaking autism. But this didn’t prevent him from expressing his vision to create ReClif, a community center that strives to help its autistic clients thrive physically and intellectually via physical and mental activities.

Olson befriended Blankenship while he was in high school. In 2017, while he was still playing in the A’s Minor League system, he pledged $5,000 to the GoFundMe account Blankenship created to build ReClif. The program and contributions have substantially grown over the years that followed.

Olson was certainly feeling appreciative on Friday night, when he and his wife, Nicole, teamed up with the Braves Foundation to host the ReClif Community’s second annual Diamond Casino Night. Patrons filled the stadium’s Delta Club to play card and table games aimed toward raising money for this charity Atlanta's first baseman proudly supports.

“Reese’s whole thing is trying to expand the network and open some eyes to more people about autism,” Olson said. “I feel like the more people we can get into these things, where you provide a fun event, pick up some knowledge and get some donations, it’s a good thing.”

Courtesy of Atlanta Braves

Max Fried, Spencer Strider, Ozzie Albies, Sean Murphy, A.J. Minter, Charlie Culberson and Jeff Francoeur were among the current and former Braves who were present during this year’s black-tie occasion. Last year's event raised $250,000 and there is hope the 2024 total will continue to increase as more people become better aware of the cause.

Blankenship’s tremendous story was chronicled by MLB.com and MLB Network in September.

Olson was a sophomore at suburban Atlanta’s Parkview High School when he began spending time with Blankenship, who was a few years younger. They swam, hiked, played ball, colored and passed the time together. At the time, doctors believed Blankenship had a 3-year-old’s intellect.

A few years later, Blankenship shocked his family when he began using a letterboard to express his thoughts. This led to work on a keyboard, where he conveyed his vision to build a treatment and fitness center for autistic individuals.

Courtesy of Atlanta Braves

ReClif opened in suburban Atlanta’s Peachtree Corners in 2018. The center provides therapy options that include personalized exercise classes, therapeutic yoga, spelling-to-communicate coaching, specialized learning seminars and other offerings.

“This is really a step-back moment,” Olson said. “I still think of working with Reese when I was a sophomore in high school, being down in his basement reading him flash cards. It’s been all him to get ReClif and ReClif Community to this point, where we can do events like this.”