The Green Bay Packers took to Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute, Wis., to play the Jordy Nelson Charity Softball Game. (June 12, 2015) Danny Damiani/Post-Crescent Media
GRAND CHUTE — It was a Sunday afternoon fit for fall at Fox Cities Stadium, with the Green Bay Packers setting off some offensive fireworks to the delight of their faithful followers like so many Sundays at Lambeau Field.
The annual Jordy Nelson Charity Softball Game brought a crowd of 8,024 to the stadium in Grand Chute to watch some of their favorite players trade in their helmets and pads for gloves and bats. With the help of mid-70s temperatures and the return of some of the Packers' biggest stars to the game for the first time in several years, fans were treated to a home-run heavy softball matchup between players from the offense and defense.
And surrounding the on-field action — which ended as a 29-19 win for the defense — was a boisterous all-ages crowd decked out in green and gold that appeared ready for football season to kick off.
"Maybe my most enjoyable moment is driving in here because it's a game day," Nelson said. "People are tailgating. They're standing around the parking lot. It's a different stadium but it's very similar to what we do on Sundays. It's fun to see. I know they have a good time."
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews were among the marquee names taking part. Both had been absent from the game in recent years but made the most of their returns: Rodgers accounted for two home runs and Matthews smacked one of his own.
As for the final score, that 29-19 win for the D comes with an asterisk. After the fourth inning, the offense led 18-5 until Nelson took to the microphone and announced they were going to flip the score to keep the game competitive. The offense did their best in the later innings to close the gap but, despite a flurry of homers from Nelson, Aaron Rodgers, tight end Richard Rodgers, guard Josh Sitton and others.
The event also included a short matchup between members of the Packers and sponsors and a home run derby. It also offered the thousands of fans in attendance plenty of autograph and selfie opportunities.
The annual game, which is in its second year with Nelson attached and was previously hosted by the likes of Donald Driver and Brett Favre, is a fundraiser for Young Life, a faith-based nonprofit that works with middle school, high school and college students. Before the first pitch, a $100,000 check was presented to Young Life. A $5,000 check also was handed over to Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin.
"It's an honor to be a part of it and have my name on this game," Nelson said. " ... Being a part of the Packers, we do so much with the community, it's great to be in this situation and have this opportunity to have this game. And a lot of the fans come out, they enjoy coming to it so its an opportunity to raise some money for a great cause."
Jean and Steve Gloudemans of Appleton were two of the dedicated Packers fans who make it out. They also go to about a game a year at Lambeau and are "glued to the TV every Sunday they're playing," as Jean said.
Steve's birthday was Wednesday and Jean surprised him with tickets early Sunday. Along with taking in some "high-quality baseball," as Steve joked, he was also hoping to complete his holy trinity of autographs on a football. The Gloudemans brought along a ball they previously had signed by Bart Starr and Brett Favre and had their fingers crossed that before the day was done, they'd get Aaron Rodgers to make his mark.
The Borth family from Howards Grove made the drive to Grand Chute for the game in part to give 5-year-old Joey Borth a thrill.
"He's into anything with the Packers," said his father, Roger, who last had attended the charity softball game in the Favre era.
With many of Packers' biggest names taking part in the day, who was the youngster most excited to see take the field? The day's host: "Jordy!"
Moments of note
Blast off: Tight end Richard Rodgers got his swing plenty warmed up for the offense-defense game during the home run derby. He put on quite a show, with a few of his more than two dozen home runs clearing Fox Cities Stadium's outfield fences (games were played with temporary fences in the outfield to make for a smaller field). Another of Rodgers' bombs bounced off the scoreboard. He beat out fellow tight end Mitchell Henry in the finals to win the derby.
The Claymaker cometh: The man making appearances in two Hollywood films this summer knows how to make an entrance. The last of the big names to show up on the field Sunday afternoon, Clay Matthews showed up moments before the start of the game. He came out onto the field alone, soaked up some cheers, and pretended to dust up the No. 87 the grounds crew had chalked behind home plate.
Rodgers calls his shot: In his first at bat, quarterback Aaron Rodgers stepped into the box and pointed to the left field fence with his bat. His Great Bambino shot called, he then sent the next pitch out of the park and, with an emphatic bat flip, had the second of what would be the offense's three consecutive homers. (Jordy Nelson struck first and T.J. Lang followed Rodgers' blast with one of his own.)
Safe and sound: The 30-plus Packers taking part in the day's festivities were able to leave the field without any injuries that would affect their day jobs. Jordy Nelson took a tumble off the mound hustling to a ground ball and Davante Adams appeared to step a little awkwardly on first base while beating out a bunt — yes, he bunted in slow pitch softball — but everyone made it out healthy.
Serious swings: The offense-defense game resembled a home run derby. Several players on both squads tallied multi-homer days, including Nelson, both of the Rodgers, Lang, Henry and Garth Gerhart. Richard Rodgers himself accounted for four. Nelson and Aaron Rodgers also went yard back-to-back twice.
— Shane Nyman: 920-993-1000, ext. 240, email@example.com or on Twitter @shanenyman