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August 18, 2016

Is cheering on the opposition OK? Let's ask 'The Man' at center of latest debate

Does Utley think fans went overboard in his first game back at Citizens Bank Park?

People will complain about almost anything anymore, and in the Skip Bayless-Stephen A. Smith sports media landscape, it’s almost encouraged. Want to make a buck? Take a completely ridiculously take on an otherwise harmless sports topic!

Yes, we’re talking about the bizarre negative reaction from some corners (and it could just be a vocal minority, but they sure are vocal) on the decision by Phillies fans to give former Phillies icon Chase Utley three ovations, two of which drew curtain calls from the visiting dugout, on Tuesday night.

Want to have fun at the ballpark? Not so fast. 

There are clear rules here, people.

Do not disrespect the game.

Do not disrespect the home team.

We’ll get to the first one in a bit. First, the second one.

So the guy who served up the first of Utley’s two home runs gets it.

Vince Velasquez is only 24-years-old. He is an emotional young athlete who hasn’t been afraid to say whatever has been on his mind since his arrival to the Phillies this winter. If anyone was going to turn sour after his team’s fanbase cheered for the guy who hit a home run against him, it was this guy. 

But Velasquez gets it. Sorry, ornery middle-aged men.

How about the guy who has been on the receiving end of more boos in South Philly since Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt called it a career -- first baseman Ryan Howard? (Granted, he’s been on the receiving end of many cheers to, just not as much lately, other than his own curtain call last Friday).

"It was awesome, man," Howard said. "I think for a guy like Chase, I think it was incredible. It just goes to show the body of work that he’s done here, the respect that the fans have for what he’s been able to accomplish here. I thought it was very classy by the fans. ... It was awesome. It was awesome to see that kind of respect given back to him. It’s great to be a part of."

Howard also gets it. 

In a 162-game schedule (this isn’t football) when a rebuilding team is out of any kind of pennant race with six weeks to go, it’s completely OK for fans to recognize a player like Utley. As Howard said, Utley’s return was bigger than the 1-out-of-162 game the Phillies happened to be playing that night at Citizens Bank Park.

This wasn’t Pedro Feliz or Roy Oswalt or Chris Coste. This was one of the homegrown players who became a part of not only the core of the 2008 World Championship team, but the 2007-2011 era that saw the team win five division titles and two NL pennants, too. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz. You should feel free to cheer on these guys without criticism whenever you’d like. There, I’ve given you the permission. It's not a violation.

Speaking of which, who are these people who say “violation” all the time in deciding what is or isn’t right in sports? And why are they always so angry? Close your eyes. You see what I see, right? These guys have giant dry-erase boards in their cluttered home offices where they keep a running list of violations, their blood pressure rising while scrawling each new entrant.

But let’s get back to the part about respecting the game.

Do you know anyone, at least visibly, that respects the game more than Chase Utley himself, the guy deemed "The Man" by Hall of Fame voice Harry Kalas in one of his most iconic moments in a Phillies uniform? And admittedly throwing around the words “respecting the game” sounds almost as silly screaming “violation.” But we’re talking more about not showing up the opponent, not rubbing in a big moment, acting like you’ve been there, etc. All cliches. But, you get it.

Utley flies around the bases when he hits home runs, he does not sit and stare at the plate, or flip his bat (which is OK, too, really!) or call attention to himself. Utley does respect the opponent and he always makes sure to credit his team, not himself, if he does something to win a game. (Believe me, I’ve been getting those kinds of vanilla answers from him for nine years).

So, why not ask Chase Utley himself if it’s OK for a fan base to cheer a visiting player so much that it draws two curtain calls.

Sure, Utley is probably not going to disagree with anyone cheering him specifically just as Jayson Werth isn’t going to say, “you know, in retrospect, taking that $126 million to leave the Phillies probably wasn't a good idea.” When it’s given to you, you take it.


What if roles were reversed? What if what happened on Tuesday night in South Philly had occurred last August, when the Dodgers came into Citizens Bank Park with another Phillies icon at the top of their lineup and in the middle of their infield.

During a debate on this silly subject (one I’ve already written 741 words about) I was asked to present this specific scenario to Utley, since if anyone would understand the respecting the game and the crossing of the (imaginary) line of what’s right and what isn’t at a ballpark, it would be the steely-eyed Utley, an old school veteran who frowns on pregame fraternization with the opponent and takes the game as seriously as anyone in recent memory when he crosses the lines onto the field. I was asked to present this scenario to him twice, actually. 

So here we go. Say this was last August, and rather than being on a rehab assignment with Double-A Reading, Utley was in the home dugout when Jimmy Rollins – the Phillies all-time hit king, former MVP, World Series champion, lineup ignitor, father of dragons, etc. – returned to Philadelphia for the first time in another uniform after spending his entire professional career in the Phillies organization. 

And, rather than collecting a couple of harmless hits in a 6-2 loss to his former team, Rollins did exactly what Utley did two nights ago, homered twice, including hitting a grand slam, and put on such a show that Phillies fans couldn’t help themselves and took the night as a chance to appreciate one of the greatest players in the history of the franchise.

Rollins, who did receive a rousing ovation before his first at-bat last August, instead received three, including two that brought him out of the visiting dugout. The fans unabashedly showered a visiting player with applause throughout the night.

So that’s exactly what I asked Utley, again, since someone asked and, so, why not find out the answer?

What would your reaction have been had roles been reversed, and you were still with the Phillies and in the home dugout or on the field, and it was Jimmy Rollins in a Dodgers uniform that had that night and had the Phillies fans giving regular ovations (leading to curtain calls) for a visiting player?

To his credit, Utley thought about it before firing off his answer.

“If roles were reversed, and that was Jimmy?” Utley said.


“I’d be happy for him,” Utley said.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21