Skip to main content

News | Minnesota Vikings –

Hitman's Homer Helps Vikings Defense Claim 2023 Thielen Foundation Softball Game


ST. PAUL – It seemed only fitting that a homer by "The Hitman" helped his team to a victory.

Harrison Smith "pinch-hit" for former Vikings teammate Adam Thielen Wednesday night, hosting the annual Thielen Foundation Charity Softball Game, and Team Defense took home this year's crown with a 12-9 win over Team Offense at CHS Field.

It may have been a "low-stakes" game, but try telling that to a bunch of professional athletes.

"It's fun being able to hang out with your teammates outside of the locker room, outside of football. It's so great to just chill and get our minds off the more serious things in life," safety Cam Bynum said. "But no matter what we do, it's gonna be competitive. … We're out here trying to win."

View photos from the 2023 Thielen Foundation softball game hosted in St. Paul, Minn.

Team Defense jumped out to an early lead, but a slew of home runs in the third inning, including consecutive roundtrippers by Chris Reed, Garrett Bradbury and T.J. Hockenson, tied the game at 4-4.

Team Offense tried to keep the rally going, but the inning came to an end with a controversial call of C.J. Ham out on first base. The signal prompted an animated Kirk Cousins to stride out of the dugout for a conversation with the umpire, much to the crowd's joy. Adding to the good-natured theatrics, Cousins "angrily" kicked the grass on his way back.

The teams exchanged big hits throughout the evening, and while Team Defense's lead slipped away for a bit, a two-run homer by Jordan Hicks tied the game at 8. Newcomer Dean Lowry hit one over the fence to regain a 10-8 lead.

Then Smith took his turn at the plate, and it was one more home run for a 12-8 lead. Team Offense had one more at-bat but couldn't get back in it.

Following the game, Smith tipped his cap to long snapper (and power-hitter) Andrew DePaola and safety Theo Jackson, who leapt to make multiple impressive catches in centerfield.

"DePo delivered," Smith said of DePaola. "Between him and Theo, they were both up there for the MVP."

Smith and his teammates who played in last year's game have come to know and expect DePaola's skills on the diamond. So when teams were divided into Offense and Defense, Smith knew exactly which roster to add the specialists to.

"I'm kind of the guy that calls the shots on this one this year," Smith quipped. "So after seeing that performance last year … our lockers are pretty close, we have a good relationship. I took him out for golf and kind of recruited him."

But not everyone anticipated DePaola's evening, which also included taking home the Home Run Derby trophy.

"I didn't realize it. Most long snappers I've been around haven't been athletic, and DePo, he's hitting some dingers," laughed Hockenson.

Every swing Wednesday night, dinger or not, benefited Thielen Foundation – which in turn is making a donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters Twin Cities, a nonprofit Smith has long supported.

"I've been able to participate in a lot of events over the years and just be around the Bigs and the Littles," Smith said. "Give them opportunities to grow and learn things together, whether it's coming out to St. Paul Saints games, doing dodgeball events, meeting at bowling alleys – just doing whatever. So it's been very fun, and it's been rewarding.

"It means a lot to me to be a part of the Twin Cities and Minnesota, this entire area. When you get here as a young guy you don't [think about], you know, I've been here for a third of my life now, playing football for the Vikings," continued the 2012 draft pick. "And it flies by, so I definitely don't take that for granted. A big piece of staying [with the Vikings] was the love I have for this place and these people."

That impact has certainly been felt by Vikings fan Mary Michels and her son, Cameron, who live in Texas but travel to Brainerd, Minnesota, each summer.

Mary has previously donated to Big Brothers Big Sisters for Smith's "per tackle" PledgeIt campaign, and she embraced the opportunity to make sizeable donations through the softball game's silent auction that earned her and Cameron a spot at Smith's pregame press conference; Cameron, who plays college baseball, also had the honor of throwing out the first pitch.

"Harrison has given us some great memories, some great times. He does a lot for the community, and he just seems to be an all-around great guy," Mary said. "Big Brothers Big Sisters, it's all about the kids and supporting them … so it was a good charitable foundation to donate to."

Wearing a Primetime Purple No. 22 jersey, Mary was short on words when meeting Smith.

"I couldn't even – he shook my hand, and I couldn't even say my name at first. It was amazing," she said with a smile. "And just to know how down to earth he is – he's just a regular guy, and it's just the best."

Smith's teammates certainly agree with the sentiment.

"Harrison's a leader, and he serves his community in the right way," second-year linebacker Brian Asamoah II said. "You see stuff like that as a young guy and you're like, 'OK, I can do my part, do my due diligence to these fans, this community, the whole state of Minnesota.' "

Since arriving in Minnesota midway through the 2022 season, Hockenson is continuously impressed by the Vikings culture and character throughout the team.

Wednesday's softball game further emphasized that for the tight end.

"Just super close. This locker room is unlike any I've been around," Hockenson said. "We all hang out; we all go out outside of football, and we can kick it and do anything. We're always inviting everybody to do something. It truly has been a blast to be here in Minnesota."

It's why Smith found it so easy to step in and host in the absence of Thielen, who signed this offseason with the Panthers.

"It's a nod to the brotherhood – the sport of football, the camaraderie that exists within it and then the ability to help others because of where we're at and what we have access to," Smith said. "When I was asked if I wanted to be the host this year, it was a no-brainer to continue [Thielen's efforts] and also be able to help a cause that means a lot to me in Big Brothers Big Sisters."

Adam and Caitlin "welcomed" the crowd with a message played on the video board, and they expressed gratitude not only to Smith but to the Vikings and the Twin Cities community for championing their foundation while they're away.

"We are so bummed we can't be there with you all," Adam said. "We had such a great time last year, and we know it's going to be a great event. I had so much fun with my teammates, and I know they're going to carry on this tradition for a long time."

After all, it really is about making a difference.

"We're fortunate to play the game that we love … and we have the resources to give back to the community that supports us," Smith said. "Whether it's having a good time, showing people a good time outside of football, or if it's volunteering and helping out where we can, the whole Vikings organization does a great job getting guys in the community. … We've got a lot of good guys here, and I'm thankful."