August 16, 2016
After worshiping at the altar of Chase Utley for a decade and a half – and for a lot of reasons that makes it understandable – Phillies fans will have their first opportunity to welcome their beloved former second baseman back into town on Tuesday night.
The Dodgers are in town for their first and only trip to Citizens Bank Park and Utley, in the leadoff spot he’s made a home of in L.A., will be the first batter of the game.
Phillies faithful will have an opportunity to give Utley the standing ovation they weren’t able to give last summer (he was traded 90 minutes after a game last August). They’ll get to spend the next three days watching him, hoping to catch the photo of him in Dodger Blue, perhaps an autograph …
But how about the rarest in Utley memorabilia, his home? That, too, can be yours.
“We still have a place we’re working on selling,” Utley said of his Philadelphia home. “So if anybody’s looking for a nice condo downtown, talk to me.”
Utley hasn’t completely separated himself from Philadelphia, of course. He spent more than 15 years in the Phillies family since he was drafted with the 15th-overall pick in the 2000 MLB Draft.
But it almost never happened.
Utley, who is from Southern California, very nearly began his career with the team he’s with now, his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers. In 1997, the year the Phillies selected J.D. Drew with the second-overall pick in the draft, the Dodgers chose Utley in the second round (76th overall). He went 22 picks after Randy Wolf.
“I came extremely close to signing with the Dodgers,” Utley said in a press conference at Citizens Bank Park before the Phillies and Dodgers took batting practice on Tuesday. “I’m not going to go through the whole story but I got to the point where we felt comfortable with the amount of money I was going to get.
“I remember going on a senior trip with a bunch of my buddies for an extended weekend and we had a blast and after talking with them and having some experiences with them I realized that I wanted to go to college and get my college experience in those years. That’s something you can never get back. And if baseball was meant to be I would still have an opportunity to play. Obviously, it worked out. I had a great time at UCLA and I was fortunate to be drafted by the Phillies when I was.”
And the rest, as they say, is history. And unlike, say, Bobby Abreu or Roy Halladay, Scott Rolen or Cliff Lee, Utley, as he said himself, was fortunate to play with the Phillies when he did because he was able to collect the ultimate prize, a World Series ring. Although his buddy Jayson Werth might be an exception, Utley believes being a part of that team that will have on the reception he receives tonight.
“We had a lot of great times here at this stadium, obviously bringing the championship here,” he said. “But in that five-year run, it was pretty special. When you look back on it, I just feel fortunate to have been on the team at that time. Because we had a pretty good squad.”
But, with the way Utley played the game, in particular, it probably wouldn't have mattered. He will be celebrated not only because he played on championship teams, but because of the way he played, too.
"I never really made it look easy out there," he said. "There are so many times I’d meet a father with his son or even a mother who would praise the way I played, and would tell me they want their son to play that way. To me, that’s a true compliment."
Phillies long-time public address announcer Dan Baker will read aloud Utley’s name emphatically. They’ll play Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” for him, surely … and is it even remotely possibly they’ll dig out this gem, his original walk-up song?
Utley is going to enjoy the next three days, just as Phillies fans will. And although it might not be weird wearing Dodgers blue (it is the team he grew up watching), Utley did admit it’s strange being on the opposite wing at Citizens Bank Park, a sector he ignored for more than a decade.
“It was a little awkward walking past the home clubhouse and going to the visiting side,” he said. “I don’t think I spent more than 10 minutes on that side over the course of the years I was here. It’s definitely different. But I’m sure excited to be back.”