There are so many things you can call Chase Utley from his time as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. All-star, silver slugger, Phillies legend, World F***ing Champion. But as simply as Harry Kalas once put it, he was the man.
Many people have called Chase Utley a bad person because of his hesitance to show emotion and his lack of enthusiasm when talking to members of the media. However, Phillies beat writer Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com, who covered Utley throughout his entire tenure with the team, called him “truly a nice, and great person” today on Philly Sports Talk, and there really is no better way to put it. Because even though he was a great player, he was just as great, if not better as a person.
Not only was Chase a great person and teammate, he played the game right. He played hard and he gave it his all every single day. Chase is the guy you want your son to play like, and he even mentioned today during his pre-game press conference that fans come up to him and praise him for “the way he played” and that “they tell their kids to play like him.” Utley said, ” those are the best compliments that I get.”
Utley has been a fan favorite to many people, including myself, and is the reason you’ll see plenty of kids in Little League games now, and for many years, to come in the PA and New Jersey area named Chase. Fans loved the way he played, and he was one of the most likable players to ever wear the red pinstripes. Speaking for myself, Chase was my childhood hero growing up, and is the reason I wore the #26 from the time I was eight years old throughout my high school career.
There is no other way to describe Chase’s hustle than the play that Harry Kalas would respond to with his now infamous phrase. Utley stepped up to the plate late in an August day game against the Braves in 2006 with the Phillies trailing a run, and with the bases loaded. Utley promptly un-loaded the bases with a three-run double that put the Phillies on top, 5-3. What happened next, though, is what got him the praise of Kalas. Ryan Howard hit a high chopper to the pitcher in which he nonchalantly flipped to first to retire Howard. But, Utley never stopped running on the play. Utley noticed the lackadaisical flip by the pitcher and rounded third with a full head of steam. Utley slid into home safely and proved to everyone that he wants to show up to the ballpark and work hard every single day, every single inning, every single at-bat, every single pitch.
Aside from his grittiness and effort, Chase brought so many great memories to this city and its fanbase. The five year run that he and the rest of the players on the team put together will always have a special place in the hearts of Phillies fans, and is something they can always think back on and smile. I can still hear in my head Joe Buck say, “Utley rips into right field, at the track, at the wall, it’s a good start for the Phillies” as Utley kicked off the Phillies’ first World Series appearance since 1993 with a bang as he hit a two-run home run to right field in the 1st inning. Moments like that are ones that stay with you for the rest of your life.
My favorite Chase Utley moment, however, comes in Game 5 of the 2008 World Series against the Rays, and it was a play he made in the field, and not at the plate. The game was tied at 3 with two outs and a runner on second base (Jason Bartlett) in the top of the 7th inning. Akinori Iwamura hit a ground ball up the middle that Utley stopped from going into the outfield, but it appeared obvious that he had no play at first. Knowing that, Utley faked the throw to first and instead fired home to Carlos Ruiz who tagged out Barlett, who didn’t stop running from second, to end the inning and keep the game tied. To me, this play defined the kind of player Utley was. He was the type of player who was always thinking ahead and even though he wasn’t the most gifted fielder, still made some plays that just made you say, “Wow.” Utley had the wherewithal to know he had no play at first and that Barlett thought he would try to make the play and get Iwamura, and to make a good throw to the plate for Ruiz to tag out the runner. The Phillies would go on to score the eventual game-winning and series-clinching run in the bottom half of that inning, and the outcome of that series may have been different if not for that play.
Utley provided so many more memories for the fanbase. It would be crazy of me to try to rank all of the other great plays he made because in my mind they’re all equal after that play in Game 5. Whether it was his first career hit, a grand slam at Veterans Stadium, his record tying five home runs in the 2009 World Series, his walk-off hit against the Mets in August of ’07, countless clutch home runs into right field at Citizens Bank Park, diving catches in the hole, and glove flips to Howard at first. Utley provided so many memories for this city and even though he said after tonight’s game that he should be thanking us the fans, we’ll still always thank you, Chase.
And tonight may have been the icing on the cake for most Phillies fans. Even though he wears Dodger blue these days, he still had a little magic left in him at Citizens Bank Park, and he showed it tonight. With his two home runs, one solo shot and one grand slam, and his 5 RBIs against his former team tonight, he gave us one final look (in person) of the great player he was for this franchise. Even though it came at the expense of a Phillies loss tonight, the fans finally got some closure with Chase and got to properly say goodbye. Tonight was truly a surreal moment for the fans of this storied franchise as they got to (properly) say goodbye to one of its most beloved players with one (actually two) last curtain calls.
Chase Utley was apart of arguably the greatest team in franchise history, and there were several all-time great Phillies on that team. Utley, Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and arguably even Ruiz, are all the best in franchise history at their respective positions. But what sets Utley apart, and what makes him the most beloved out of all the players on that team, is the effort and willingness to lay it all on the line that he brought with him to the ballpark every single day. He always will be a World F***ing Champion, and of course, the man.
Now Chase, do us a favor and let us win the final two games of this series, will ya?
Photo: Matthew Straubmuller (Flickr.com)