Hedges steals the show at the Guardians' charity chess tournament

February 21st, 2024

This story was excerpted from Mandy Bell's Guardians Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Guardians outfielder hunched over his computer, staring intently at his screen. His left hand went back and forth between resting on the table in front of him and rubbing his forehead, displaying his concentration. While he waited for it to be his turn to move his chess piece, his right hand grasped a green stress ball in the shape of a pawn, releasing any anxiety about his strategy -- so much so that the top of the foam was ripped off.

This was the approach of the champion. Kwan won the inaugural SlugChamps Chess Tournament sponsored by Chess.com, after beating three opponents. When his matches were over, he was relaxed, watching the broadcast of the event on his phone and joking with the other competitors. But when the time started ticking, he was locked in, ignoring all of his surroundings.

But then the camera pans out. No longer are we locked in on Kwan and his intensity. Our eyes gaze just a few inches to the left and we meet, well, the antithesis of the stereotypical chess player. A man with a beanie halfway off of his head, three beers cracked open and consumed in front of him, screaming at the top of his lungs after every critical moment. It probably goes without saying after reading that last sentence, but this is .

Two grandmasters, Robert Hess and Aman Hambleton, broadcasted the event, offering insight and commentary on the head-to-head matchups. Any time Hedges came on the screen, they were flabbergasted. At one point, one of them uttered that he was the most animated chess player they’d ever seen.

I’ve never watched a chess tournament before, but I can guarantee that statement is true. Here’s a look inside the Guardians’ cafeteria at their Spring Training complex at the three most boisterous Hedges moments during Tuesday’s chess tournament:

1. Getting hit
The energy started from the outset for Hedges. Within the first few minutes of the event getting underway, his yells could be heard echoing down the hallway rooms away from the cafeteria after he won his first game. After win No. 2, Hedges stood up and tipped his cap to the imaginary crowd, bowed and sat back down while raising two fingers high above his head. When he clinched his second round berth on his third consecutive victory, he jumped out of his chair to celebrate with a beer. The antics were more than enough to annoy David Fry (playfully), prompting him to throw his squishy stress pawn at Hedges while he walked back toward his seat, drink in hand. The piece hit him in the ribs and Hedges, in his typical over-the-top fashion, fell to the ground, screaming, “I saved the beer!”

2. Being humbled
Hedges went from cruising through three consecutive games against Fry, to getting thumped by Kwan in Game 1 of the second round. In just over three minutes, Kwan hoisted his fists in the air as Hedges belly laughed at his utter failure. Hedges collapsed into Kwan’s arms and the two embraced, laughing at the quickness of the game. Hedges walked away to go for a walk to clear his head. When he came back, he asked Kwan how many moves it took him to win. When Kwan said it was only 13, the two laughed even harder.

3. Defeating Kwan
No, Hedges didn’t beat Kwan overall, but one of the four matches they played went in favor of the catcher, and he certainly didn’t let Kwan forget it. There was silence in the room as each duo focused intently. But out of nowhere, Hedges shoved his chair back to allow him to get to his feet. He let out a roar so loud that people standing outside the building could’ve easily heard it. He flexed his arms down by his hips, realizing he just dethroned (even if only temporarily) the best player in the tournament.

“I don’t care if I lose forever now,” Hedges said, recognizing the accomplishment.

After three booming screams and multiple fist pumps, Hedges squatted down and put his face an inch away from Kwan’s cheek. He held a stoic look for six or seven seconds before breaking character, laughing in disbelief. He stood up tall one more time to rally the room behind him for his final moments of fame before Kwan advanced to the final round and eventually took the title.

“It was really jarring,” Kwan said of playing Hedges. “I think the whole time you obviously know you can’t mess up because he’s going to let you hear it. But that loss really hurt.”