Ryan Nelson was barking all game from his first base post for the Friday Rawkers. In the eighth inning, he actually uttered something that had a grain of truth: “It almost feels like Homegrown.”
He and 50 other people were in synch Saturday afternoon as an unsanctioned Homegrown Music Festival Kickball Classic broke out at the field in the back of Chester Park. Those who were there will call it good, and witnessed a win by the Rawkers over the Saturday Rollers that now puts Friday ahead in the all-time series, 11 wins to 10.
Ask a Homegrown committee member if it officially counted. It should, if only to make math easier. Given the lack of a game last year, the series number of games now matches the year the game is played — game 21 in 2021. Journalists will no longer need calculators.
Picture ants crawling out of a mound for the first time in spring and you have the scene Saturday. After a long COVID winter that all but canceled the 2020 Homegrown and made the 2021 version mostly virtual, there was a lot of catching up to do among the regular festival hooligans.
There was Chad Lyons, pitching again for Friday after seriously contemplating hanging it up after the 2019 game, a win for Friday that evened the series. Friday coach Eric “Heiko” Edwardson actually announced his retirement two years ago but was back at the job Saturday, as was Ellen Vaagan for the Rollers.
The lure of gorgeous weather during a waning pandemic was too much to pass up as social media posts about having a game cropped up all week. Jason Beckman umpired again, trying his best to emulate Rick Boo, who resigned from the longtime gig in 2019 and then up and died on us later that year. Beckman honored Boo by writing his name on a swath of duct tape on the back of his referee shirt.
There were some lingering precautions executed, like distanced team huddles and hotel room bar whiskey bottles instead of a shared slugs from a fifth during the seventh-inning stretch.
There were about 10 people on each team, as the tradition of more half-interested spectators than players continued. To sum up the game, Friday kicked balls in the outfield gaps while Saturday kicked them right to the Rawkers.
The aforementioned Nelson launched a solo homer in the fourth inning, the second in a row for the Rawkers, and Josh Nickila came in after kicking a triple, providing the game-winning run as Friday went up 9-4 in what eventually became an 11-8 final.
The Rollers tried to make a comeback in the eighth with key kicks by Homegrown progenitor Scott “Starfire” Lunt and pitcher Bryan “Lefty” Johnson leading to three runs. Kristy Marie O’Neill scored for the Rollers in the ninth but Friday shut the door and took the win.
In what is becoming a likely welcomed tradition, the game got started just after 12:30 and lasted a brisk two hours. It helped that there were no “tase that dog” interruptions as the canines were well behaved. Lyons pitched with alacrity and with minimal verbal jousting.
Something weird among the weirdness happened as the game ended. The teams lined up for postgame handshakes, which turned into hugs. Of all years. There was no winning team glomming together on the pitching mound and screaming nasty epithets to the losers while dousing each other with beers and liquor.
It was an appreciation of sorts, for being able to gather for a simple few hours and catch a semblance of life pre-COVID.
“Things feel normal,” someone in the third base gallery said.
“It’s just good to be out,” came a reply.
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