The chant is heard sporadically throughout the annual Homegrown Music Festival Kickball Classic. “MVP. MVP. MVP.”
It usually comes when obviously non-sportsball scenesters, worn out from a week of festival shenanigans, actually catch a ball instead of having it carom off their chests or heads, arms akimbo, the rubber orb tumbling to the turf. But hey, at least they didn’t knock over their beers.
If the 2022 version of the game on the field at Chester Bowl had one marker, it was the extraordinary series of popup catches that kept the score low. The Saturday Rollers avenged a loss in 2021, an ad hoc effort that occurred despite the real-life festival foregoing in-person events for a second year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Saturday built an early 4-0 lead, kicking to all the right spots in the infield to move runners along. The Friday Rawkers could not catch up and eventually had to submit to the reality that the Rollers had knotted the series at 11 games apiece after a 6-4 win.
“MVP. MVP. MVP.”
Most valuable plan? Was it the small-ball approach taken by the Rollers? Not anything based on siblings Jerree and Ben Small, though those two extremely nice people were among the more than 100 people attending and ignoring the game. It wasn’t bunts (which should be banned from the game, Chad Lyons) but nicely placed balls in the infield that got Saturday on the board. The Friday Rawkers, who usually rely on a power game, never really found a groove, although Mike Smisek smashed a ball into the outfield in the bottom of the fourth for an inside-the-bowl homer that gave Friday its first run, making it 4-1.
Most valuable pressure? The little excitement that Friday had after scoring was erased when Saturday scored the eventual game-winner in the top of the fifth and added the cushion with one more. They wouldn’t have to score again.
Most valuable parachute? Brittany Lind, local music follower and host of The Duluth Local Show on the Current, saw a gym parachute online and knew she needed to have it. She brought it to the game and it was an immediate hit as people grabbed a handle, formed a rainbow canopy and children and adults zoomed inside and let the parachute collapse. “Who just has one of these?” people asked. “And why haven’t we had one before?” Lind beamed. Children screamed. The rainbow tarp may have won Homegrown.
Most valuable pitch? The Wrong Note Pep band entertained again, including a horn solo at the pitcher’s mound to start the proceedings. It turned into a marching band during the seventh-inning stretch. With silver pants and a found trombone she’s been noodling with the past year, Carolyn Reisberg was joy personified.
Most valuable potable? Power drinks, ciders, Hamm’s, Coors, Founders, Vikre, Summit, Modelo, LaCroix, Earth Rider, Castle Danger, Miller Lite, PBR, whiskey, tequila, Stiegle? This is but a cursory inventory of what the crowd was enjoying.
Most valuable participation? Saturday pitcher Bryan “Lefty” Johnson sat by himself along the first baseline shortly after the ignored “high noon” start time. He was happy there, ruminating about this perhaps being his final year of playing. Over on the third base side, Friday team members snickered about what was starting to look like a one-man team. Birthday boy Scott “Starfire” Lunt showed up and announced he couldn’t play due to an injury.
Then came Ellen Vaagen across the outfield with a wagon full of kickball inspiration. The Saturday captain had arrived and suddenly the Rollers outnumbered the Rawkers nearly two to one. Friday started with eight players, but still cocksure with more players trickling in.
Most valuable pace? The contest kicked off at 12:42. It ended at 2:20. The game has fewer players and fewer beefs with the officiating of Jason “Boo” Beckman. That the game came in at around 90 minutes is a Homegrown miracle compared to four-hour or more ordeals in the past. What is even more astounding about the speed of the game is that the seventh-inning stretch went on for nearly 20 minutes.
Most valuable player. Oh, yeah, that thing. Johnson made for a strong candidate with some fielding plays that led to put-outs and even a few double plays. Vaagen had pep talks and some excellent early base running skill, beer flying and legs whirring.
Vaagen put things to rest as Saturday huddled for a postgame celebration.
El Karnwie-Tuah, who performs as Tarli, was named MVP for stellar work at first base and playing through a sore quad. Vaagan handed him the game ball and he smiled, reminding everyone it was a team game. Tarli was a vacuum at first base, catching foul balls and pop-ups and taking many a throw from Johnson for outs.
Across the field, Friday captain Eric “Heiko” Edwardson was once again telling his team that he was retiring.
The Homegrown goddess was kind to the event again in 2022 as a cloudless sky and temperatures nearing 60 degrees met kickballers and fans. It’s been a long winter. Just the week before, it was 30 and raining with 60 mph winds in Chester Park. Like partying during the game, the weather was extreme in a good way, but leading to the realization of sunburns all Saturday night as Homegrown shows wound down.
Most valuable protection was needed.
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