SAINT PAUL – Most Vikings vets won’t report for training camp until Thursday afternoon, but a handful donned jerseys a few days early for a good cause.
Softball jerseys, that is.
Adam Thielen, Harrison Smith, Kyle Rudolph and Anthony Harris participated in a celebrity softball game Monday night at CHS Field, home of the St. Paul Saints. Proceeds from ticket sales benefited The Thielen Foundation, which Adam and his wife, Caitlin, started in 2018.
Smith was quick to commit to the event when invited.
“Thielen was putting it on, and I’m always going to show up for him,” Smith said. “I was in town, it sounded like a fun event, and I know he’s doing a bunch of great things with his organization. So, anything to help him out.”
The four Vikings, along with Caitlin, were on the Athletes team. They were joined by former Twins first baseman Joe Mauer, NHL goalie Alex Stalock, four-time World Series champion Darryl Strawberry, boxer Caleb Truax and former Saints players Nate Hanson, Charlie Ruud and Ila Borders.
The Athletes played against the Media team that was made up of local journalists and radio personalities, including former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber. Chris Hawkey, Cory Cove and MeatSauce from KFAN’s The Power Trip served as the in-stadium play-by-play team.
Smith started out the game at pitcher and didn’t allow any runs in the first inning.
“I’ll take that,” he said of his performance on the mound.
Adam Thielen, Harrison Smith, Kyle Rudolph and Anthony Harris participated in a celebrity softball game at CHS Field. Proceeds from ticket sales benefited The Thielen Foundation.
He and Thielen hit a home run apiece, and Rudolph knocked two out of the park and turned a pair of double plays.
Could your first at-bat be called a “pop-up homer”?
“No doubt,” Rudolph laughed. “I hit three pop-ups and one pretty good one. The wind was blowing out to right – I probably should have tried to smash one up into the wind.
“It’s fun,” he added. “I grew up as a baseball player, and it’s great to get out here in a not-so-serious fashion and have some fun, and it’s all for a good cause.”
Harris doesn’t share Rudolph’s baseball background and opted to not set the bar too high for himself.
“My only goal is to make contact and to get on base,” said Harris, who scored his first run in the second inning. “If I see a good pitch, swing, try to hit a home run, but my main goal is to make contact.
“I think I had an error – or two, maybe,” he continued with a smile, “but everybody’s doing good, everybody’s batting well, and people are making plays. We’re having fun; that’s the most important thing.”
Smith called Harris’ outing “solid” and joked that he has improved since the teammates participated in batting practice with the Twins in May.
“I can’t knock him,” Smith said. “He misjudged one ball, so I’m going to give him one error out in the field because we can’t have [that as] safeties. These balls are a little harder to judge, though.”
The Vikings were impressed by Borders, who was the first woman to receive a baseball scholarship to play men's collegiate baseball and became the first woman to play professional baseball when she signed with the Saints in 1997.
Toward the end of Monday’s game, KFAN’s Dan Cole “The Common Man” smacked a line drive that appeared to be headed in the direction of Rudolph in right field, but Borders, who was pitching, reacted quickly to intercept the ball and get the out.
“Ila was awesome,” Smith said.
“I mean, that was a rocket. That scared me,” Rudolph said. “That’s your worst nightmare in a softball game for a ball to come flying at you. That’s why I only play the outfield – I don’t want to be anywhere near the infield. That grab she had was unbelievable.”
The Athletes defeated the Media 21-9, but the score didn’t seem to matter. Plenty of fun was had by both teams for a good cause.
Thielen thanked the Saints and CHS Field for incorporating the celebrity softball game into their festivities surrounding the 2019 American Association All-Star Game. The game was followed by the Jack Link’s Home Run Derby and a country music concert featuring Drake White and The Big Fire.
Even more than a fun evening, Thielen is grateful for the impact the proceeds will make on local youth and patients at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.
“These events are great, but I think the biggest thing is when we actually go in and see some of these kids [who] are having a tough time. That’s what it’s really all about,” Thielen said. “This is what really enables us to give back to them and gives them the resources and opportunities that they need.”
And Vikings teammates joining in the effort made it that much more significant.
“It means a lot because they could be doing a lot of other things before training camp,” Thielen said. “We really appreciate their support. That’s what kind of team we have – we have guys that want to help out, they want to give back to this community. We have a lot of people who help one another out throughout the year, and tonight was another opportunity to do that.”