McMullen: For Philadelphia, Passion Turns to Perspective with Carson Wentz
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The real major-leaguers in Philadelphia took over Citizens Bank Park on Friday.
While Bryce Harper and Co. were out west, Carson Wentz and his closest friends hopped across the street for the second AO1 Foundation charity softball game.
The festivities were fun with Richard Rodgers seizing the mantle of best softball player on the Eagles by winning the home run derby and also settling things for Team Offense with a walk-off bomb in a 17-16 win but the real numbers were far more impressive: 15,000 fans on a beautiful night contributing $500,000 to an organization which has strived to serve the poor in Haiti as well as feed the homeless in Philadelphia.
At the center of it is Wentz, the face of the franchise for the Eagles and an athlete who believes in giving back to the communities that have touched him.
“It’s a pretty cool event,” the QB1 said before the fun started.
From a football perspective, the much-discussed PhillyVoice.com piece in which Wentz was described as "selfish" and "arrogant" by some anonymous teammates, sparking a Page 6 gossip vibe where Twitter detectives were keeping score of teammates coming to his defense and forced Wentz himself had to diffuse the situation with a Super Bowl week sitdown, seems to be in the rearview mirror.
Almost 30 of Wentz's teammates participated Friday, including fellow team-leaders Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson and Brandon Graham while plenty others showed up just to express their support, including Malcolm Jenkins and Alshon Jeffery. Jenkins, who is in search of a contract tweak, along with Johnson and Jeffery showed despite the fact they haven't been at voluntary work this spring.
Even ex-Eagle Torrey Smith returned to Philadelphia for the fun.
On the field, Wentz took some batting practice but played manager for Team Offense while Rodney McLeod, still recovering from a serious knee injury, pulled the strings for Team Defense.
Besides Rodgers, kicker Jake Elliott, the runner-up in the HR derby for the second consecutive year, tight ends Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz as well as linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill, at least while swinging, were among the best at softball.
In fact, Team Offense was down 16-14 entering the bottom of the sixth when the murderer's row of TEs: Ertz, Goedert and finally Rodgers went back-to-back-to-back to win the game, with Rodgers not only clearing the makeshift softball fence but finding the seats at CBP as he did time and time again in the derby.
But this was Wentz's show, not only for his passions off the field but his presence on it as a leader.
“It means a lot just knowing that these guys ... I’m texting them about the softball game and they’re already fired up,” Wentz said. “For us, it’s football, football, football, all the time. So to just break up the monotony with something like this, have some fun, see the fans and just have a really cool night, it means a lot that those guys show up.”
The hiccups have been real for Wentz over the past two seasons, starting with the torn ACL and LCL that derailed what would have been an MVP season in 2017 and the stress fracture in his back that short-circuited last season.
At 26 and with a big-money extension on the horizon, however, any negatives seem to be melting away.
“I don’t think I could’ve gone to a better city that fits my personality, the blue-collar work ethic, just the passion they bring in everything they do," said Wentz. "I’m the same way. I love it here, I absolutely love it here and the fact that the city gets behind this event … gets behind what we’re doing with the foundation. Obviously, they get behind us in a huge way when it comes to football, but nights like tonight and the things that we have going on, it just means a ton that they're behind us in everything we do."
Make no mistake, familiarity may have turned the love affair between Wentz and Philadelphia from passion to perspective but it still runs very deep.
"I felt extremely embraced," Wentz said. “I felt like part of the city.”
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen