Why Project? It's more than Williams' nickname

August 23rd, 2018

PITTSBURGH -- ' teammates give him a hard time over his lack of a true nickname. Some people call him "Willy," but that hasn't hit the mainstream. Last year, he wore "EV" on his Players' Weekend jersey -- but that was a tribute to rock star Eddie Vedder, not a nickname.
Williams had a better idea this year: "PROJECT." So the back of his jersey this weekend will read "PROJECT 34," the name of the charitable nonprofit foundation that is dedicated to benefiting people who suffer from spinal cord injuries.
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Williams is already wearing No. 34 this season, a change inspired by his friend and Project 34 president/co-founder Cory Hahn. Why not take it a step further for Players' Weekend?
"It just made sense," Williams said. "I think it's cool that way."
Williams changed his number to honor Hahn, who is now the D-backs' coordinator of pro scouting. Hahn suffered a career-ending, life-changing spinal cord injury after a headfirst slide into second base while playing with Williams at Arizona State University in 2011. Together, through Project 34, they are committed to providing funds for physical therapy, medical equipment and further assistance for those living with spinal cord injuries.
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You might find Williams and his Pirates teammates wearing black Project 34 T-shirts around the ballpark before games. Several other clubs have joined the effort, and Williams said Manny Machado recently ordered shirts for the Dodgers and their wives. Their hope is that all 30 teams will eventually get involved, picking a representative and visiting patients rehabbing spinal cord injuries in each Major League city.
"The outpouring of love and financial commitment we've received from people already is unbelievable," Williams said. "We're looking forward to seeing how it grows over the years to come."
On June 23, Williams and his wife, Jackie, hosted patients with spinal cord injuries and their families during the first Project 34 Day at PNC Park. The patients played catch on the field, met with players and then watched the game from a suite at the ballpark.
During the event, Williams met a few people who play wheelchair rugby for the Pittsburgh Steelwheelers. They invited him to attend one of their practices, and he took them up on it last Sunday after the Bucs' walk-off win over the Cubs at PNC Park.
"I give into peer pressure easily. I wasn't going to play, but then they were just peer-pressuring me, like, 'Come on, let's get you in a chair,'" Williams said. "It was a blast. I look forward to doing it again."

Williams won't pitch for the Pirates this weekend at Miller Park, but he will wear his "PROJECT" jersey in the dugout as well as special cleats created by Cody Sabol, a local artist and pastor. Williams said Sabol "beautifully" designed two pairs of his Adidas cleats, both of which have "Project 34" written on them.

Sabol also designed Pittsburgh skyline-themed cleats for , Batman-themed shoes for and "J-Hay" spikes for Josh Harrison. Williams has two pairs.
"He went above and beyond what our expectations were," Williams said.

One pair is all about Project 34, which is written stylishly across the side of each black-and-gold shoe. The other pair depicts Williams with the "Star Wars" character Yoda on his back along with Yoda's words to Luke Skywalker in "The Empire Strikes Back": "Do or do not. There is no try."
Williams plans to wear the Yoda cleats briefly, then he will have them framed. He wants to pitch in the Project 34 cleats until someone tells him he can't. It's about more than a nickname.