GRAND CHUTE, Wis. – Jordy Nelson fields the same question from inquiring teammates when the Packers return for the start of the offseason program every April.
So when’s the softball game?
“The moment we come back for offseason workouts, they start asking about the game,” Nelson said. “I think a lot of it is guys are frustrated with how they played last year and feel embarrassed.”
All joking aside, Nelson appreciates his teammates’ interest. Even before it was his name on the marquee, the Pro Bowl receiver has had a special place in his heart reserved for the annual charity event at Fox Cities Stadium.
Whether it was he, Brett Favre or Donald Driver playing host, Nelson understands what the game means to the community. He enjoys watching families pack into the ballpark – Sunday’s event drew 8,047 in attendance – while kids scurry from one side of the outfield to the other in hope of catching a home run.
As sweet as the 30-28 comeback victory was for Nelson and the rest of the offense – especially after first-year tight end Mitchell Henry’s walk-off home run – it pales in comparison to the big picture when you consider the charities that benefit and the children impacted in some shape or form.
It’s a thought that crossed Nelson’s mind shortly after he and his wife, Emily, arrived at the stadium on Sunday morning.
“I told (Emily) if this was back home growing up, I’d envision us being in the parking lot and doing everything that they’re doing,” Nelson said. “It’s a great family atmosphere.”
Leading up to this year’s game – Nelson’s third since taking the reins from Driver in 2014 – the Pro Bowl receiver learned that he actually shares a locker room with one of those kids who used to roam the stadium in search of foul balls and autographs.
Growing up in Green Bay, Packers rookie punter Peter Mortell attended the game annually with his family. During Sunday’s game, Nelson actually pulled up a photo on the main screen of Mortell and his cousin, Griffin Blumb, posing with former Packers safety LeRoy Butler at Brett Favre’s softball game in 2000 (see right).
When Nelson recently asked Mortell if he wanted to play in the game, the rookie punter did a double-take.
“He asked me one day at breakfast, ‘Hey, do you want to play in the game?’ I kind of looked around because I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me,” Mortell said. “I was like, ‘Me?’ He said, ‘Yeah, do you want to play in the game?’ I was like, ‘Absolutely.’ I was honored to get asked to play.”
Mortell made a good showing of himself considering he has no formal baseball training. He went 3-for-5 with a solo home run in the third inning off Nelson himself. It was one of 22 softballs that were launched into the sea of excited youngsters. Another from tight end Richard Rodgers left the stadium completely.
“It’s really special because I remember 16 years ago sitting in the stands watching and just wondering about playing in this game, and wanting to play in this game so badly one day,” Mortell said. “For it to actually happen and Jordy to ask me to participate was special. To be able to play in front of this community, it was a fun day.”
The game had everything fans could ask for, beginning with second-year cornerback Damarious Randall holding off long-snapper Rick Lovato in the home-run derby beforehand. It also included a few hijinks with Nelson and quarterback Aaron Rodgers dumping a bucket of water on an unsuspecting Randall Cobb before one at-bat.
Prior to Henry’s late heroics, Lovato made an early run at game MVP with all four of his hits going for home runs. Third-round pick Kyler Fackrell added three of his own to help stake the defense to a 28-20 lead entering the bottom of the seventh inning.
Thanks to a little lineup reconfiguration – Henry batted three times in the last frame – the offense scored 10 runs to squeeze out the come-from-behind victory. Aaron Rodgers and Richard Rodgers each hit two home runs in the game, while the final of Henry’s five homers gave the offense the win.
Henry played baseball growing up – he once won his state’s home-run derby as a little-leaguer – before deciding to concentrate solely on football midway through high school. Having more than 8,000 fans cheering his walk-off was more than he could’ve ever imagined for a charity softball game.
“It just shows you how great this fan base is and how great this place is in Green Bay. There’s no other organization or team like this,” said Henry, who had a game-high 12 RBIs. “I don’t know any place you could go where you have this many people come out just to see you play softball. It’s pretty unique.”
Proceeds from the game benefitted Young Life, a faith-based nonprofit organization that pairs teenagers and college students with adults focused on friendship and adventure. Nelson and his wife, Emily, have been involved with the group for the past seven years after former teammate Aaron Kampman first brought it to Nelson’s attention.
Before the game, Nelson helped present Young Life with a check for $120,000, but the platform Sunday’s event provided is equally important for promoting awareness of the group’s efforts.
As for the game itself, Nelson was happy with how things turned out even if the offense had to make a few late-inning modifications to come back from its deficit.
“We might have tweaked a few things to work it out in our favor,” said Nelson, smiling. “Obviously, the fans want to have a good time and everyone likes a walk-off, so we were able to get it done.
“It’s great giving back to the community that supports us year-round through the good, through the bad. We love to give back to the kids and (to) do what we can to help them be successful and build their foundation for the future is huge.”
Defense 0 2 14 4 4 3 0 – 28 32 4
Offense 2 6 4 4 1 3 10 – 30 41 2
WP: Nelson. LP: Matthews.
Defense: Randall 2-for-6, Hyde 4-for-6, Matthews 4-for-5, Ryan 3-for-5, Lovato 4-for-5, Ringo 3-for-5, Banjo 3-for-4, Bradford 3-for-5, Fackrell 3-for-5, Mortell 3-for-5. HRs: Lovato 4, Fackrell 3, Mortell, Randall, Matthews, Bradford, Hyde.
Offense: J. Nelson 7-for-7, Henry 7-for-8, A. Rodgers 3-for-3, R. Rodgers 5-for-8, Cobb 4-for-5, Janis 3-for-4, E. Nelson 0-for-2, Hundley 0-for-2, Backman 0-for-1, Adams 2-for-3, Johnson 2-for-2, Burks 1-for-2, Williams 1-for-2, Allison 2-for-4, Waters 1-for-2, Davis 3-for-3. HRs: Henry 5, A. Rodgers 2, R. Rodgers 2, J. Nelson, Cobb.