Philadelphia can be a notoriously difficult place for professional athletes. The city has been home to some immensely talented players who were never able to make a connection with the fan base. Mike Schmidt, Donovan McNabb, and Wilt Chamberlain are among the greats who, despite their talent and accomplishments, were never quite able to win over the fans.
There is one modern Philadelphia athlete has been an exception: Chase Utley. It’s very difficult to find a Phillies fan – or even anyone in the city – who doesn’t think highly of Utley. I think Utley is beloved is because he does the two things that Philadelphia fans really cherish:
1. He plays hard.
2. He doesn’t say anything stupid.
When we think of Utley, we think of intensity. We think of hustle. We think of him charging home and being declared “The Man” by Harry Kalas.
We don’t think of memorable quotes. Can you think of anything that Utley has ever said that goes much beyond a standard baseball cliché? I can think of only one occasion when he really seemed to speak his mind, and it only made Phillies fans love him more. (Warning: NSFW due to profanity)
So it was somewhat surprising to learn that Utley is going on a bit of a public relations bender this week. First, he made an appearance on the WIP morning show this morning.
In typical Utley fashion, he really didn’t say much, even when presented with a potentially controversial subject. He was asked questions about A-Rod and Jonathan Papelbon, but responded with safe, measured answers each time. When asked about Phillies fans, here’s how he responded:
I really enjoyed playing baseball in Philadelphia. There’s really no better place to play. As long as we’re playing fairly well, there’s no better place to play. They [Philadelphia fans] can be tough on you at times, but you know what, they kind of bring the best out of you.
Not that there’s anything wrong with giving simple answers. Not every athlete can be Charles Barkley and deliver buzzworthy sound bites every time a microphone is placed in front of him. Utley does his talking on the field, and that’s a large reason why Phillies fans love him. I think there are a few local athletes who could learn from his example.
Here is the link to the full audio if you’d like to listen:
If this unexpected (if ultimately unrevealing) outburst wasn’t enough, Utley is also taking to the Twitter!
— Phillies (@Phillies) January 12, 2014
While I can’t imagine that he’s going to reveal much more than he did on WIP, this kind of accessibility is unusual for Utley.
It’s very likely that this burst of activity has been prompted by the Phillies front office. After a poor 2013 season followed by a less-than-exciting offseason,the fan base does not seem to be especially excited about the team. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone strongly suggested to Utley that their most popular player should make himself a little bit more visible and spread some goodwill among the fans.
Then again, maybe he’s just trying to find a way to respond to his fans a little quicker. He’s admitted that it sometimes take a long time to respond to his fan mail.