Phillies Opposition Roadblock: Chase Utley (aka The Man)
It is August 16th. The date we have been waiting for since August 19th of last season. Tonight is the return of Chase Utley.
Normally, my Opposition Roadblocks track the career, numbers, and scouting reports of another team’s hottest or most talented player. On a very talented Dodger team, Utley serves as the experienced veteran who is there to set the tone and share his wealth of baseball knowledge.
But here in Philly, Chase is so much more. I do not need to write about his career numbers because his time in Philadelphia should not be defined by his statistics. His career is defined by moments, by feelings, and by two simple words.
Phillies fans knew the Southern California boy would be special from the first hit. The second baseman drilled a grand slam into the Veteran Stadium home bullpen. As the ball carried through the Philadelphia air and the ever humble future star flew around the bases, the great Harry Kalas’ words echoed “Welcome to the show, Mr. Utley!”
It was the first of many memorable moments #26 would give the Phillies faith. It was a perfect foreshadowing of the career of a player this city will never think of as anything less than its own. He gave us countless double plays, incredible diving catches, hustling inside the park home runs, dramatic hits, and boundless effort.
How about his 35 game hit streak in 2006? You know, the eleventh longest in Major League history and second longest in franchise history, only behind his double play mate, Jimmy Rollins. Then, there was the infamous moment that he scored from second base on a chopper to the pitcher in Atlanta.
I remember jumping around my buddy’s dorm room at the very end of August when Chase ended a tremendous Phillies comeback against the Mets. He lined a single into right field, scoring Tadahito Iguchi to beat his former, obnoxious teammate, Billy Wagner. The hit completed a series sweep and put them within two games of their New York foes. And we all know how that story ended, don’t we?
He gave us multiple postseason memories, from homers in New York and pump faking versus the Rays to reaching base in 26 consecutive postseason games. When Chase was hitting in the postseason, it seemed like there was a chance something special was going to happen. I feel obliged and proud to bring up his infamous “World (bleepin’) Champions” moment at the 2008 parade. The line was my alarm for the next five years.
He had that way about him throughout his nearly 13 seasons in Philadelphia. All of the guys during the most enjoyable run in franchise history had their roles. Chase was the quiet worker. He was respected by teammates and feared by opponents. Phillies fans wanted him at the plate in a big spot, while opposing team’s fans hated the thought of his staring down their pitcher in an important moment.
The now 37-year-old had the same demeanor with every play. Known for little emotion, but constant effort, it felt like Chase showed up to the stadium with dirt already covering his uniform. He sprinted the bases after a homer, went hard into second base to break up a double play, and never took a play off. He is the player that causes every father to turn to their children and say, “Chase Utley is the player you should always play like.”
Most will argue that his never-ending sprints to first base do not matter in the long run. Those sprints did matter though. They mattered because he did it, night in and night out, to set a direct example for his teammates. The sprinting mattered because he ran those routine balls out on broken down knees that robbed him of what appeared to be a Hall of Fame career. They mattered because those 90 foot sprints on a routine grounder to second base showed he cared about the game, and more importantly, us.
Tonight, Phillies fans have the opportunity to once again denounce those who say we always eat our own. Chase is a generational player that cities only get once in a great while. And it was not only as a result of his talent. Chase is forever cherished in this city because of his attitude, his humble nature, his hustle, and his pure love of the game, of Philly, and the fans.
Tonight, as Chase strides to the Citizen’s Bank Park plate for the first time in almost a year, I have a scene painted in my head. The infamous “Kashmir” blaring over the speakers. Dan Baker, Phillies public address announcer, allowing Phillies fans to perfectly match his introduction with their cheers: “Leading off for the Dodgers, number tweeentyyy siiix, second baseman, CHAAAASE UTleyyyyyy!!!” And every single fan in that stadium on their feet screaming, while former teammates and coaches show him the appreciation he deserves.
It is a moment we have had the pleasure of seeing and hearing 3,185 times. But the 3,186th time is the moment Chase Utley deserves. It is a moment fit for a player who defines Philadelphia sports and its fans. It will be a moment in the sun for a player who purposefully and willingly spent his career in a humble darkness. It is a moment meant for…The Man.
Welcome home, Chase.
Opposition Roadblock Grades
Roadblock Pick: Carlos Gonzalez (2-6 with a double and two strikeouts)
My Grade: Not my best pick. His ankle held him out of one entire game and to a single pinch hit opportunity in the final game. I should have gone with Charlie Blackmon, who was virtually unstoppable for three games. My Grade: F.
Phillies Grade: I mean they did not let CarGo beat them in the one game he did play. He was 2-5 in his only start. David Hernandez was able to get a huge strikeout against Gonzalez late in the game on Sunday afternoon, so they earn a relatively high-grade. Phillies Grade: B-