Commentary

Remembering “The Man”, Chase Utley

utleyPrior to the start of the 2008 season, the Philadelphia Inquirer examined each position on the Phillies roster in a series of daily articles that would lead up to opening day. Bill Lyon, in my opinion, the Inquirer’s greatest sports writer ever, captured the essence of Chase Utley better than anyone else.

He summed up the second sacker in two words: “dirt bag”.

He was right. Lyon eluded to how Utley’s uniform was always a rainbow of colors, from mud, to grass stains, and even blood. ‘The man’, as he would become known, thanks to a famed quote from Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas, left his heart and soul out on the field.

Boy, in Philadelphia we miss that guy who was spectacular in so many ways but did it so quietly and humbly. With all the bat flips and hot dogging seen in today’s game, it is refreshing to still see a guy run with his head down and speeding around the bases on a home run as if he was running the 100-yard dash.

On Saturday night Utley turned back the clock as he found himself in the familiar but the not-so-friendly confines of Citi Field, when his Los Angeles Dodgers played the reigning National League Champion New York Mets in game two of their three-game series.

After striking out in his first at bat, Utley was greeted by a fast ball thrown behind him by Mets starter Noah Syndergaard in the third inning. That pitch would result in an early exit for Syndergaard, as he was ejected within seconds of the ball bouncing off the backstop.

Utley would retaliate the right way in his third plate appearance, when he sent a Logan Verrett breaking ball deep over the right field wall for the first run of the game.

The Mets were irritated enough by Utley after last year’s controversial slide into second base during the playoffs last year when he broke Ruben Tejada’s leg, which likely prompted the Syndergaard pitch.  Now he’s tagged them for the first run of the game after being thrown at. I mean what more damage could this guy do?

How about a grand slam in his next at bat to break the game wide open? The 2-0 Dodger lead turned into a 6-0 advantage following Utley’s second homer of the game. Los Angeles would not look back after that seventh inning salami as they won the game by a score of 9-1.

With each step Utley took around the bases, Mets fans looked on and shook their fists in rage. All that fans of other teams could do was sit back say, “This guy has still got it”.

‘The man’ definitely still has it. He is among the top-25 in the National League with his .293 average while his defense has been solid throughout the first couple months of the season.

It may not be long before Utley hangs up the cleats, but it is fun to reminisce on his time in Philadelphia after seeing his vintage performance the other night. Each home run called by Fox Sports’ Joe Buck made it feel like you were back watching the 2009 World Series against the Yankees. The Phillies would end up losing in six games but Buck called each of Utley’s five home runs in the series.

Philadelphia may have witnessed some of the greatest feats ever from the second base position for the better part of a decade. Those who were fortunate enough to see Utley in his prime can greatly appreciate the show he put on Saturday night. There have been countless times where he has left people scratching their heads wondering how he hit balls so far with such a short and abbreviated swing. Or how he would be able to track down a slow roller, scoop it with his glove and flip it to the first baseman. All in one silky-smooth motion.

Simply unbelievable.

Those moments were why dads sitting next to their sons at the game would point to Utley and say, “You see that man? You’re going to want to play exactly the way he does, because he plays this game the right way.”

It is hard to look out at second base in Citizens Bank Park and not see that ‘dirt bag’ occupying second base, but nights like Saturday make Phillies fans appreciate Utley even more for his time in red and white.

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