The 20th Homegrown Kickball Classic had the sides of the Friday Rawkers and the Saturday Rollers right back where they were two decades ago when the competition started, tied up. Friday mustered a comeback 4-3 win over Saturday to tie the overall series at 10 games apiece. Friday had ripped off three straight wins before losing in 2018, allowing Saturday the bragging rights for a year with a one-game series lead.
The 20th anniversary tilt at the ball diamond at Chester Park was surprisingly not as raucous or argumentative as past affairs. It was downright civil as dogs and children loped on and off the field and a pep band kept the mostly sports-averse crowd toe-tapping and chatting among themselves while filling their faces with snacks and beer far from the action along the left-field foul line.
Nestled among the din were some Homegrown surprises.
Longtime umpire Rick Boo made good on his promise that he was retired. Forever Friday coach Eric “Heiko” Edwardson announced that this was his last game. Even longtime Friday pitcher Chad Lyons joined a chorus of aging musicians in stating “I’m getting too old for this shit.”
Bryan “Lefty” Johnson, the longtime pitcher for Saturday, was also a no-show.
Lyons’ status remains unknown for next year, and while he didn’t go out in 2019 with another MVP designation, he did pitch the ninth inning pantsless, with only his camo boxers peaking out from under his white baseball jersey. If you are going to go out with a bang, that may as well be it.
That the sun broke through a lake haze 90 minutes before the scheduled first pitch was but a small miracle. Weather is the hobgoblin of Homegrown every year. Sure, Saturday was the sunniest and warmest of the festival, finally something out of the 30-degree range without a rain drop in sight.
No, the miracle was the sight of Lyons alone on the kickball pitch, a full half-hour before the start. And noon is the start time by suggestion only. He stretched at the backstop, dawdled with the ball, and mused about losing last year.
Maybe another year. Lyons, like Heiko, looks forward to sitting on the sidelines with a megaphone, offering his trademark barbs to the opposition. Even those were few and far between this year.
The Wrong Notes Pep Band returned, a musical addition to kickball that makes one wonder why it hadn’t happened years before. This is a music festival event, after all. At 12:18, the band ripped into “Louie, Louie” as the teams struggled to get assembled. The Wrong Notes members did well to uphold their slogan: If you’re playing it wrong, you’re doing it right.
Boo was replaced by Jason Beckman, who got the expected headache of disputed calls that increased with each inning passing and beers shotgunned. He kept things on pace and controversy-free despite being accused of being on “Heiko’s payroll.” By the late innings, Beckman was shirtless and gaining authority.
The game got going at 12:36 and ended exactly two hours later. Friday scored in the first inning when Dan Branovan of the Crunchy Bunch came home on a kick from fellow Crunchy Buncher Al LeBlanc. Saturday tied things up at 1-1 in the second.
Jerree Small got Saturday a 2-1 lead in the third with a bases-loaded popup that was dropped, scoring team manager Ellen Vaagen.
Dropped pop flies were becoming the theme of the game as several came in succession for Friday. By the end of the fourth, the reigning champs were up 3-1.
Friday roared back in the fifth, scoring three runs that would be enough for the win. Ryan Nelson had an RBI kick that tied the game at 3-3. Then Leon Rohrbaugh booted a bomb that found turf for the game winner.
After that, not much at all happened. The crowd continued to ignore the game while the pep band blared out an occasional song: “Funkytown” and “Sweet Caroline” among them. Notably, the band came with a flag twirler this year.
Lyons ended up ripping off his crotch-torn jeans to pitch in the ninth, his legs creating a glaring distraction for the kickers.
In the end, Heiko said the entire Friday team was the MVP. “It’s good to go out with a win,” he said. “Time for some new blood.”
Vaagen said that while Friday was a team full of “cheaters and kiester eaters,” they were happy to hand Heiko a win as his swan song.
Homegrown Music Festival inspirer Scott “Starfire” Lunt was in the lineup for Saturday, wearing rain boots with his personalized jumpsuit that you hope has been washed since its debut several days ago.
Win or lose, there’s always a reality that comes with the end of the kickball game. Just 24 hours of official Homegrown remain, a day made harder from physical exertion and the ravages of the body from the nonstop music party that started a week ago.
Nick Pawlenty from Saturday summed it up well: “I’m going to fill a bathtub full of ice and I’ll see you all tonight.”
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