I arrived yesterday at Coca Cola Park well before game time. I introduced myself to Jeff Skversky of Channel 6 ABC and Comcast SportsNet’s Leslie Gudel. Their news trucks were piled up at the front gate near the ever-growing piles of fans. I’ve been to IronPigs games since the beginning and saw Raul Ibanez, Pedro Martinez, and Brad Lidge rehab here. This was much different.
While some fans were at the park early for the John Mayberry Jr. bobblehead giveaway, about 20 were lining the right field fence. No, not the colorful, filled-with-ads fence located at the back of the park but rather the large, black fence that establishes the boundaries of the park. They were trying to get a glimpse of Chase Utley.
I caught up with Michael LoRe (@MichaelLoRe) of the Express Times and Jeff Schuler of the Morning Call in the dugout when Utley began to throw. They cover each and every IronPigs game and have never seen anything like this. Finally, I asked the voice of the IronPigs, Matt Provence (@PigsRadio), who has also seen it all, what his thoughts were on Chase Utley’s impact.
One number he gave me said it all: 2,000 tickets were sold in 20 minutes.
“(Chase’s rehab) has a huge effect. We’ve had other rehabs before but this one is special because he has been with the Phillies his whole career and what he has meant to the Phillies’ dynasty period that they have had,” Provence said. A man of such impact, however, could not even get his own number. No, mascot Ferrous was unwilling to relinquish his jersey. “Unless Chase gains another 300 lbs., he’s not fitting into that number 26,” joked Provence.
It didn’t matter that Utley has been secretive on the health of his knee and the fans weren’t scorned by his absence. Utley’s 2-5 night with a home run to help the Pigs move into a tie for first was much more symbolic than that. You could see it in the volume of fans who were at the gate by 5 PM, the ones that didn’t have tickets trying to grab a view of the greatest second baseman in Phillies history watching from behind the black bars in right, or even the twinkle in Pigs manager Ryne Sandberg‘s eyes when asked about Chase.
Sandberg replied “Oh yeah,” with a smile only a father would have when talking about his son when asked if he saw any of himself in Utley.”He’s a hard-worker, he’s dedicated to the game, he’s dedicated to the organization.”
Sandberg thinks he’s ready to contribute to Philly, too. “I saw a good quickness; a good first step. He looked like Chase Utley to me. It looks like he’s excited to be here, that’s what I see.”
After hearing Sandberg talk and watching the look in his eyes, seeing the thousands of fans lined up, an assumption I have carried for years was finally clear: Chase Utley is the Phillies. Sandberg indicated that Utley was among the first players there to stretch and warm up and Utley looked serious as he ran the bases during BP. His home run to put the Pigs ahead was the icing on the cake.
This is beginning to feel like a turning point in the Phillies season. Chase Utley has already made his impact off-the-field in Allentown, it is now time to see the impact he brings to Citizens Bank Park.
To check out all of what Ryne Sandberg had to say about Utley, check out the video below: