Chase Utley Pulls a Jimmy Chitwood


“I don’t know if it’ll make any change, but I figure it’s time for me to start playing ball.”

Those words were spoken by one of the most gifted athletes the world has ever seen. Jimmy Chitwood of the Hickory… um… Hickories, immortalized in the movie “Hoosiers,” uttered those inspiring, if someone hick-like words. Words that transformed a small town, a school, and dare I say, even the world.

On Sunday, Chase Utley, who has provided many Chitwood-like moments during his time with the Phils, channeled that inner-Chitwood after the Phils’ series-losing 5-1 loss to the Marlins. Finally, the man with knees creakier than Willard Scott’s says he’s once again ready to play baseball.

“I’ve made some strides over the past few months and I’m ready to take the next steps. I’m not happy I’m in this position, but I’m excited to be able to go down and keep working and advance what I’ve been working on here,” Utley said.

“I’m still not perfect yet, but I think I’m on the verge of getting there. I want to take the opportunity to get some at-bats and get a head start.”

And with that ringing statement of confidence, Utley heads to Clearwater to get some real at bats against real pitching, even if it is against A-ball competition. He’ll likely start as a DH and work his way into playing the field over the next few weeks.

So, with Utley heading down to Florida to play with the Threshers, how long will it be before Chase can return to Major League action?

Once again, no one knows.

"“I don’t know if it’ll make any change, but I figure it’s time for me to start playing ball.”-Jimmy Chitwood, Greatest Basketball Player Ever"

Ruben Amaro said this week that the Phils will likely go slower with Utley’s rehab assignment this time than they did last year. They want Utley to be able to come back and hit for power,
as much as possible. That will only happen if Utley is able to do strength training on his lower body. Last year, with no strength in his legs, Utley’s power was probably only slightly better than Freddy Galvis’ is now.

“[I’m] just trying to feel comfortable on a daily basis,” he said. “There were times when I felt good one day and then didn’t feel so good. Right now I’m feeling good on a daily basis so I’m headed down to Clearwater to get some at-bats. I’ll start out by DH-ing and I’ll be able to see some pitches and get my timing down and when the time is right, I’ll get out on the field and work there.”

The thing that has been most maddening about Utley is that he has apparently not kept anyone in the loop on how he’s doing. Chase has been doing his own thing, and not even Amaro seemed to know how Utley was progressing. The Philadelphia Daily News’ Rich Hoffman did an excellent piece on this recently, and the most amazing thing to me was how little the Phils knew about Utley’s progress.

Hoffman notes that on Friday, Ruben was asked if he had any timeframe on when Utley (and/or Ryan Howard) might be back and what kind of progress he was making. Amaro’s response was astonishing.

“No, I don’t,” Amaro said. “Nope. I do not know what we’re going to get out of them or when they’re going to play.”

Who is the GM here? Who is the player? I’m starting to get confused.

Of course, the question is, when Utley does come back, how good is he going to be? Will he have any of the power that made him a special player, a true #3 hitter? Or will he be the guy we saw in the last two-thirds of 2011, a #2 or #6 hitter, and not a middle-of-the-order guy? I’m on record as saying I don’t think Utley is going to ever have the power again that made him so special. I think he is what he is, a .270 hitter who can get on base and  hit a double or two, but nothing more.

Either way, it was at least nice to see Utley taking the time to inform the media that he was going to go play baseball again. And hopefully, his presence will propel the Phillies away from doing their dance with .500 and back into the stratosphere they’re used to inhabiting.

“I love you guys.”