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August 16, 2016

The Man of steel: Philly primed to welcome home Chase Utley

For at least a couple of days, Philadelphia sports fans will take their eyes off the troubles of the Eagles and focus in on Chase Utley.

Utley arrives in blue and gray – Dodger Blue and a graying head of thinning hair that serves as a reminder of how far removed we are from those glory years from 2007 until the recent demise.

It is also a reminder of how fast things happen in the world of sports … a reminder of how quickly we go from generation to generation of athletes, and a reminder of how sports fans should wring every last bit of enjoyment out of a team’s success.

Think of how quickly things have changed since that bright sunny Halloween Day in 2008 when Utley and the city celebrated with the parade – and Utley’s expletive went undeleted.

There have been a couple of college classes graduated, and if you allowed your kids to skip middle school for that day, those kids might be heading into their senior years of college – if they haven’t already graduated.

It happens all so fast.

The man who stated “Chase Utley, you are the man” was taken from us and the city’s professional teams have already each gone through more than a few transformations.

Those were the days of nightly sellouts when you would tune into a Phillies game on TV and you could not tell the color of the seats because they were always filled. Those seats are now just as likely to be empty, but a good portion will be occupied tonight to see Utley come in for a bow.

Of course, it’s unlikely Utley will be comfortable taking any bows over the next few days, as he puts his head down and studies his shoes. It would be nice to see Utley converse with Howard at first base, but it’s more likely he will have to look into the dugout to see the Big Piece, who has gone to pieces over the last few seasons.

Utley and Howard, and Carlos Ruiz and Charlie Manuel, and Jimmy Rollins and Jayson Werth. Those were some of the names, and now they have been scattered around baseball and beyond.

It was a time when Philadelphia fans got to ride one of those wonderful waves of success.

For the Phillies, those waves have been rare, they caught one back in the 1970s into 1980 and then rode this long one, which included multiple post-season appearances and a World Championship in 2008.

Utley was literally in the middle of it all. The middle of the best middle infield the club has ever put into a lineup with Rollins patrolling shortstop to his right, and the power-hitting Howard to his left.

One by one the star players and personnel from that team have been removed and now, it is Utley’s turn to return. More than any other player from that era, it was Utley who earned the fans’ respect on a daily basis.

Utley was the player you could point to as an example of how to play the game. Utley was not as cool as Rollins, didn’t have the overwhelming prowess of Howard, or anywhere near the fielding skills of some other second basemen around the league.

Literally, what Utley had was a put-your-head-down- and-do-your job attitude. From that very first home run, just hit the ball out of the park, put your head down and trot around the bases.

No frills. No celebration. Just do your job and do it with a sturdy base of basics. Do it with a pure, short swing packed with power. Do it with an attitude that landed him in baseball lore for a take-out slide last fall that led to the new “Utley” rule on the base paths.

The narrative around Philadelphia is that Chase Utley was perfect for Philadelphia. However, the truth of the matter is that Utley would have been revered by fans no matter what city in which he plied his trade.

The seasons have whipped past us quickly, but that magical time of Utley and that entire team served for a generation of Philadelphia sports fans to experience the giddy feeling of not only competing for a championship but actually celebrating one.

Utley is now trying to win it all for the team he rooted for as a kid, for the team he watched while honing that sweet swing, for the team that is as Los Angeles as any team in sports.

It might be his hometown team, but in baseball terms, Philadelphia will always be his home.

Which is why for the next few nights, fans will welcome him home.