Sports are, at their best, wonderful expressions of athletic achievement, human determination and extraordinary talent. To be a sports fan is to witness all the highs, and the lows, that sports provide. Sometimes a fan is very lucky and finds an athlete who is The Athlete for them. The one who epitomizes everything they love about sports. The athlete who symbolizes something greater for them. The athlete who 25 years from now, they will still call their favorite of all time. I thought, for many years, that that athlete for me was Michael Jordan – but then I saw Chase Utley play.
I started watching baseball seriously a decade ago at the suggestion of a friend. My grandmother had been a Phillies fan so I settled in nightly to watch the Phillies play. The Phillies had just had a terrible April. Jimmy Rollins had predicted they would win the NL East over the defending NL pennant winning Mets but a 4-11 start made that prediction seem laughable. They came from 7 games behind with 17 to play to clinch the NL East and make the play-offs for the first time since 1993. It was 2007 and I had found my team. I found my player in the Phillies second baseman, Chase Utley. Utley missed part of the 2007 season with a broken hand caused by a hit by pitch but his aggressive style of play and his talent made me a fan.
I invited the Phillies into my home for at least 90 evenings a year for the next 8 years after that. I have watched Utley battle knee problems. I’ve watched this team win 100+ games only to come up short in 2011. I’ve watched this team fall off a cliff in 2012. From 2007-2012, the Phillies played better than they ever had since their founding in 1883. I saw the Golden Age of Phillies baseball. Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins exemplified that time. They were a knock-out double play combination who were so in tune at times, I wondered if they were psychic. Rollins was traded to the Dodgers before spring training and now Chase Utley has been traded there as well.
Players age. Times change. Teams rebuild. The only sadness is that I wish my grandmother had been around to see this. She would have loved this team so fiercely. I think about that because Wednesday was a sad day for me. An era ended in Philadelphia and in my sports life. I will never again see Chase Utley in a Phillies uniform. The team that he represented, that 2008 World Series team, is retired, out of baseball, or soon to be sol. I can say though, 20, 30, 40 years from now, that I saw Chase Utley play for the Philadelphia Phillies and it was magnificent. I can say then, as I can say now, that he is my favorite player. Chase Utley hit a grand slam home run his first major league hit and Harry Kalas, the long time broadcaster, nicknamed Chase Utley “The Man”. I can tell that story for the rest of my life to everyone I meet and right now I plan to do so. I can’t turn back the clock though. I can’t put Chase Utley back in a Phillies uniform. I can’t undo the 2011 NLDS. All I have are the memories. They will glow with history and the warmth of retelling someday. Today the memories are a weight that brings a sadness. My player is gone from my team. Sports keeps moving just like life. Sometimes I wish it moved just a bit slower though or maybe stood still entirely.