When Carson Wentz took a few whacks in the batting cage before his foundation’s second annual charity softball game Friday night, his swing looked golden and full of potential.
That’s also a good way to describe the current era in Philly sports.
Ever since the Eagles won the Super Bowl last February, and especially after the Phillies inked prized free agent Bryce Harper this winter, there’s been a confusing sense of hopeful entitlement around town.
And why not? The Flyers finally ended their decades-long search for a goaltender. The Sixers advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Phillies are in first place and own the second best mark in the National League. The franchise NFL quarterback is practicing without a knee brace.
It all seems to be coming together, with the various professional sports stars visibly cheering each other on.
When Wentz attended a Sixers playoff game with Harper and first baseman Rhys Hoskins last month, social media exploded. Did his new friends offer up any tips for playing at Citizens Bank Park, where the AO1 exhibition fundraiser was held?
“Ha! I haven’t hit them up about that yet,” Wentz said, laughing. “Being that I’m only coaching — I don’t know if they have any coaching advice for me.”
Wentz chose to coach on Friday so he wouldn’t risk an aggravation to last year’s season-ending back injury, he said.
Though he didn’t participate in either the game or home run derby, his presence was all over. His food truck, Thy Kingdom Crumb, was parked outside, distributing free shrimp po’ boys and pulled pork sandwiches to ticketholders. Between innings his name was serenaded in E-A-G-L-E-S chants.
Meanwhile, Wentz himself was holding court around the first base dugout, and he signed every piece of memorabilia tossed his way. The masses couldn’t get enough.
“I’ve said it over and over, I couldn’t have gone to a better city that fits my personality,” Wentz said. “Blue collar, work ethic, the passion they bring to everything they do — I’m the same way, so I love it. I absolutely love it here and the fact that the city gets behind what we’re doing with the AO1 Foundation is awesome.”
The city has thrown that love right back.
More than 15,000 fans came out on a to watch football players hit softballs, all in support of Wentz’s AO1 Foundation’s mission of “uplifting individuals and communities around the world by demonstrating God’s love for His people.”
At the end of the night, more than $500,000 had been raised.
At the inaugural edition of his charity softball game in 2018, Wentz unveiled a charitable food truck called Thy Kingdom Crumb.
Over the past year, it’s distributed 8,000 free meals to those in need, Wentz said. There are plans to roll out a sister ice cream cart very soon, although Wentz wouldn’t reveal the name. “Ongoing discussion on what’s it going to be.”
The quarterback also announced Camp Conquerors, an outdoor ministry program that introduces hunting and fishing to in-need children.
“These kids inspire me every day,” Wentz said. “To give back and be a blessing to others. I knew if I was given the platform to play in the NFL, I was going to use that to make a difference and use that for positive change.”
One of those kids — Landon Solberg, an 11-year-old cancer survivor from North Dakota — threw out the first pitch. He received arguably the loudest ovation of the night, slightly more boisterous than the one for prodigal son DeSean Jackson, newly re-signed with the Eagles after five years away.
Jason Kelce continued his costume shenanigans, showing up in a black crop top, with his bodacious belly fully exposed.
Richard Rodgers beat out Jake Elliott to win the home run derby.
Other surprises included appearances by hold-out safety Malcolm Jenkins, former Eagle Torrey Smith and the Phillie Phanatic.
“For us, it’s football, football, football all the time,” Wentz said. “So just to break up the monotony and play a game like this, see the fans and just have a really cool night — and for those guys to support me the way they do, it’s just really cool.”
There wasn’t a single boo all night.
The final scoreboard read 17-16 in favor of Wentz’s offense, thanks to back-to-back-to-back bombs from the team’s trio of tight ends: Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert and Rodgers.
Right before the fireworks went off, PhanaVision flashed to Kelce — no longer wearing the crop top — and the center whipped out a $20 bill: “I’ll give this to anyone here who wants to buy me a cold beer.”
Yup, the golden era has arrived.