Nats' top pick helps give voice to autistic fan -- and so many others

LSU star Dylan Crews unknowingly impacted a family, then knowingly helped many more

July 10th, 2023

This story was originally published on June 29. We have updated it to reflect Dylan Crews being drafted No. 2 overall by the Nationals.

The little girl did not speak. Did not say “Mommy” or “Daddy” or “I love you.”

Aubrey White was 7 years old and born with non-verbal autism. Her parents, Crystal and Robbie, had consulted with many experts who could offer no assurances that they would ever hear her sweet voice.

So imagine their shock when, one day in 2021, Aubrey looked at a player on the TV screen during a Louisiana State baseball broadcast and opened her mouth.

“Dylan Crews!” Aubrey said. “Dylan Crews!”

As LSU alums living in the Baton Rouge, La., area, Robbie, who pitched for LSU Eunice, and Crystal had a vested interest in what looked to be a loaded LSU baseball team. But they had no idea that a highly touted freshman outfielder named Dylan Crews would suddenly unlock something inside their daughter.

Sitting nearby on the couch, they silently turned their heads and met eyes.

“We looked at each other,” said Robbie, “like we had seen a ghost.”

Not wanting to disrupt this baseball-aided breakthrough in their child’s development, Crystal slyly retrieved her cell phone and recorded video of the magic moment. Later, she posted it privately to her friends on social media. Somehow, the video made its way to Crews himself, and thus begins a heartwarming story of friendship, generosity and hope.

Now that he’s been selected by the Nationals with the No. 2 pick in the 2023 MLB Draft, you’re going to know the name Dylan Crews. You’re going to hear about the athleticism, quick stroke and power he used to propel the Tigers to a national championship. You’re going to see him prominently displayed on prospect lists, his every move up the ladder tracked closely.

But Crystal and Robbie White want you to know there’s so much more to this player than what you’ll see on the field.

“If you took everything baseball away with Dylan,” said Robbie, “he’s still a remarkable human being.”

Maybe Aubrey somehow had an inkling of that the day she surprisingly said Crews’ name. Because ever since, the two have had a close bond that has inspired Crews to make an impact on the lives of other children with special needs.

Dylan Crews and his good friend, Aubrey White

“She’s a special girl,” Crews says of Aubrey. “When I’m going through [struggles], I think of her and the other kids I support. It reminds me that things aren’t so bad. They truly impact not only my career but my life.”

Crystal did not intend for her video of Aubrey to be seen outside of her circle of friends and family and still prefers not to show it publicly. But once Crews saw it, he instructed his parents, Kim and George, to find the White family and invite them to an LSU home game at Alex Box Stadium.

“Not only that,” says Crystal, “but he asked her to come to batting practice before the game so that she could come in before the crowd comes in. She had never been to Alex Box, so we didn’t know how this was going to go down. We didn’t know if it was going to be too much for her.”

Aubrey and Dylan hang out at Alex Box Stadium.

The thoughtful early invite allowed Aubrey to get settled in her seat and adjusted to her setting.

She wound up having a terrific time at her first ballgame.

“Then, as a parent,” says Crystal, “you start looking up more things about Dylan Crews. Who is this guy? Does he have family members with disabilities? How is he so kind as an 18-year-old to know how to get to her level? It turns out, it’s just natural to him. Just like baseball. Aubrey picked a great one.”

The day they met, Aubrey gave Crews some bracelets, which he began wearing every day to honor his new pal. And the friendship only grew from there.

(L-R) Robbie White, Dylan Crews, Crystal White and Aubrey White

When Aubrey turned 8 that June, she had a Dylan Crews-themed birthday party. Because of his baseball schedule, Crews himself could not make it. But he made sure to FaceTime the little girl while he was getting off the bus at the Super Regional in Tennessee.

Aubrey became a big baseball fan that day she met Crews. She wound up participating in the sport herself, in an all-abilities, adaptive baseball league called Team of Dreams in Gonzales, La. The field is about a 30-mile drive from the LSU campus. When her games lined up with LSU off days, Crews would show up.

“That’s just Dylan,” Crystal says. “He’ll just come support her. There’s nobody who knows he’s coming, he’s not out there with media. He’s just there, sitting there watching.”

Says Crews: “I love going out and seeing all the kids play. It’s just a great feeling, seeing her laughing and running around the bases.”

Dylan Crews spends time with some of his young fans.

Had the story ended there, with the up-and-coming professional prospect and the young child with a developmental disability forming an unlikely but unmistakable friendship, it would be plenty heartwarming.

But Crews and his family didn’t let it end there.

When Aubrey had a great experience at her first game, Dylan, and his parents George and Kim Crews decided to purchase four season tickets for LSU home games to donate to children with disabilities. The friendship they formed with the Whites became a partnership, with Crystal as the point person finding takers for the tickets within a tight-knit, state-wide community of special needs families.

The program bears no official name, but it remained in effect for the remainder of Crews’ time at LSU and is going to continue even as he embarks upon his pro career.

“It’s hard for me to talk about it and not get choked up,” George Crews says. “All these families have told us it’s about inclusion. They never would have even thought about going to a baseball game because of the difficulties that arise when you have a special needs child. But to see these kids’ faces light up when they see all the people there and cheering, man, it’s such a wonderful, wonderful thing.”

Nearly 100 fans honored Dylan Crews for his generosity.

Crystal said the families contacted about the tickets typically have the same reaction she did when Crews first invited Aubrey to a game.

“They worry, ‘I don’t know how it’s going to go, I don’t know if my kid can go,’” she says. “But we tell them, ‘You know what? You’re invited, and it doesn’t matter if you stay or leave. You can try.’ That’s what Dylan has taught all of us as parents is to try, because you’re going to be surprised. And 100 percent of the time, every kid has had a blast and stayed. It eases the families’ mind to know you’re invited, you’re wanted to be there by Dylan.”

After the games, Crews met with kids with many different kinds of disabilities, be it autism, cerebral palsy, or spina bifida.

“He’s so patient and so naturally aware,” Crystal says. “Dylan just has this natural way of adapting to every single kid he meets and gives them all his attention, whether they won or lost the game.”

Families impacted by Dylan Crews' kindness hold a special tailgate party.

When Crews played his final LSU home game this spring, the community of newfound baseball fans his generosity created came together to salute him. Crystal and Robbie organized a huge tailgate before the game for many of the families -- around 100 people in all -- who had received tickets over the years, with some driving up to four hours from their homes in northwest Louisiana to be there.

“It was pretty emotional,” Robbie says. “His last at-bat, we were in the grandstand watching, and he ripped a three-run double. It was just him out there at second base, and that was almost more fitting than a home run, because all eyes were on him at second base, and he was able to kind of soak it in and everybody was able to appreciate him for what he’s done.”

In addition to continuing the ticket program at LSU, Crews has designs on eventually expanding it in his pro career.

“Hopefully I’ll start my own foundation one day and keep this thing rolling and make it grow,” he says. “I hope to do that in the future. And I know Aubrey and her family are going to help me out.”

Aubrey is 10 years old now. She loves swimming, dancing and, of course, attending LSU games. She is still unable to vocalize her thoughts and feelings. She uses spelling to communicate.

But when Aubrey shockingly said her first words a couple years back, she created a lasting connection and sparked an idea that has positively impacted many families and will continue to impact many more.

“There was no saying ‘mama’ or ‘dada,’” says Crystal. “It was, ‘Dylan Crews.’ If we have to share that honor with someone, we’re so thankful it’s Dylan. We are not jealous; we are so proud. This is who she chose to be her friend, and she picked the right person.”

Dylan and Aubrey