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Walk-Off Homer Lifts Offense at Thielen Foundation Softball Game

2022 Thielen Foundation Softball Game
2022 Thielen Foundation Softball Game

ST. PAUL – With two runners on base in the bottom of the seventh, the Vikings offense needed just one run to win the game.

But K.J. Osborn had plans for a more stellar finish. The wide receiver stepped up to the plate, swung and sent the neon yellow softball over the fence for a walk-off home run and the 17-14 win.

Plastic water bottles took the place of champagne, as Osborn's offensive teammates sprayed him down while hooting and hollering.

"That was super-duper fun," Osborn said following the game. "Anytime we can get out here in front of the fans, obviously doing it for a good cause, that's awesome.

"And then to hit 'em with the walk-off like the Panthers game," he added with a smile.

Osborn's homer may not have counted for as much as his 27-yard touchdown catch in overtime last season, but it certainly capped a fun evening at the Thielen Foundation Charity Softball Game.

Nearly 30 of Adam Thielen's teammates participated in the game, hosted at CHS Field, to help raise money for Thielen Foundation's mission of supporting youth and various populations in need.

Vikings right tackle Brian O'Neill said it was an easy "yes" when Thielen invited him to play.

"It's for a really good cause. Adam and Caitlin and their foundation do a lot of good things for a lot of good people," O'Neill said. "And we haven't been able to do these types of things in a couple years – interact with our fans in more of a social setting."

O'Neill was one of eight Vikings to compete in the home run derby that took place prior to the game, joining Justin Jefferson, Harrison Phillips, Cameron Dantzler, Harrison Smith, Garrett Bradbury, Thielen and Osborn. Celebrity footwear artist and custom cleats designer, Mache, also participated.


Osborn and Thielen hit five home runs apiece before Osborn was named the event's champion and winner of a Traeger Grill.

"I was surprised seeing K.J. hit more than five home runs," Jefferson laughed.

Following the home run derby, Vikings receiver Blake Proehl sang the National Anthem.

Proehl shared his gift for singing last fall while rehabbing a torn ACL. And while he's grown comfortable sharing his talents on Instagram, he hadn't before performed in front of a large, live crowd.

Thielen called Proehl's talents "unbelievable."

"I'm not just saying that because he's my friend and my teammate, but he is incredible," Thielen said beforehand. "It's a new experience for him, and he's been super nervous. He's been begging me to do a soundcheck, so we got here early, got a soundcheck before the game.

"When we were in receiver meetings today, someone said, 'Hey, you know those people who forget the lyrics to the National Anthem?' " Thielen added with a laugh. "And [Blake] was like, 'Really? Before I get out there?' "

View photos of Vikings WR Adam Thielen and several teammates at the Thielen Foundation Charity Softball Game.

Proehl's performance went off without a hitch, though, and his teammates rushed him at home plate almost as dramatically as they did for Osborn's winning hit.

Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell got the night started with the first pitch, which garnered a loud cheer from the crowd.

"Just seeing him supporting us, him getting in front of the fans, it was good to see that," said Jefferson, who noted he "played some" baseball in middle school.

And similar to Proehl's singing skills coming to light, Vikings teammates got a chance to discover Andrew DePaola's softball prowess firsthand.

The original rosters pitted the offense against the defense, prompting a good-natured jab from kicker Greg Joseph on Twitter.

DePaola emphasized that Thielen welcomed the specialists to be a part of the game, though, an invite that he, Joseph and Berry all accepted. The trio joined the "defensive" team and, as it turns out, DePaola was a secret weapon.

The long snapper went from not having a designated role to then pitching for the home run derby and the actual game. He also proved to be the evening's top hitter.

Four at-bats, four home runs.

"Andrew DePaola is the best baseball player I've ever seen. … This guy is hitting it out of the actual park. Not the [softball boundaries] that we have, but the actual ballpark," linebacker Eric Kendricks said. "You can tell he plays slow-pitch softball every day in the offseason. He's looking for his next career after football."

To be fair, DePaola may have hit the most, but he wasn't the only Viking to hit a round-tripper during the game. Bradbury, Jefferson and Ezra Cleveland recorded two apiece; O'Neill, C.J. Ham and Harrison Smith each notched one.

DePaola hit his final homer at the top of the seventh to tie the game at 14 before Osborn lifted the offense to a win.

"I just wanted to be here to support Adam and the Thielen family. They're great people," DePaola said. "We showed up, and I think there were a couple guys who weren't able to play today, so I happily stepped in, and there was some great pitching – some nice juicy ones to hit – so I did my job."

He turned some criticism on himself, though, for giving up double-digit runs to the opposition.

"I think pitching for the derby messed me up for the game, because I was throwing up some pretty good ones for the game, as you could tell. They were crushin' them," DePaola laughed. "It was fun. I was just trying to find the sweet spot for the guys to put on a good show. I think they were a little too nervous out there."

Jefferson quipped, "You can really see who the real athletes are and who are just football players out here. It's funny."

Some Vikings (including Bradbury, Kirk Cousins and DePaola) played baseball growing up and through high school; others were good sports about strutting their stuff – or lack thereof – in just their first or second attempt at the sport.

Danielle Hunter, Janarius Robinson and Jordan Berry were among those with little-to-no baseball or softball experience, but they embraced the evening whole-heartedly.

"After Danielle's at-bat, I think one of the other guys was hesitant about going out there because he hadn't swung, and Danielle was like, 'Bro, no, it's fine. Just go out there and have fun,' " DePaola said. "He was just encouraging guys to go out and be themselves, and that's awesome."

The family-friendly event provided fans with the first opportunity for interactions with players since prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Several Vikings took time to snap photos and sign autographs, including Thielen for one young boy wearing his Mankato State Mavericks jersey.

DePaola spent time visiting with fans while fireworks erupted following the game.

"This community supports us so much, so just being able to be out here and give back, saying hi to the fans, get a little 1-on-1 time. … They can see you're real people and get to know you a little bit more. It's great," he said.

In addition to creating a fun atmosphere for fans, the softball game gave Vikings teammates a chance to bond in a space away from football.

"This is probably just as important for our locker room as a practice, maybe. … Being around the guys, getting to really know some of them that you don't know very well," Thielen said. "When you have 90 guys on your roster, it's hard to really get to know every single one of them, so the more events you can do like this, and that support, [is really beneficial]."

Added DePaola with a smile: "This is immensely important. You saw out here the camaraderie, getting to know the guys. I don't know if anyone knew I could play baseball, but they do now."