Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia’s glorious but decrepit coliseum, stood on the corner of Broad Street and Pattison Avenue housing some of professional sports’ worst teams and most passionate fans. With its infamous 700 level and in-stadium courtroom— the leaky, rat infested sanctuary was a perfect symbol of the crime-ridden, blue-collar city came to represent.
When he first set foot on the Vet’s unforgiving Astroturf in 2003, Chase Utley embodied everything Veterans Stadium and Philadelphia stood for. Utley’s natural ability combined with a never say die, layout and slide hard mentality made him a perennial all-star, World Series champion and fan favorite.
Utley’s game saving, but ankle breaking slide in game two of the 2015 National League Divisional Series drew distain from baseball fans and the media. As a Dodger, Utley successfully broke up what would have been an inning ending double play and also broke Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada’s ankle. Utley’s slide toed the line between good, hard play and intentionally dirty slide. The New York media ran with the ladder and the rest of the country followed, but Utley’s characteristic blue-collar style of play makes it hard to believe the slide was intentionally dirty.
In 2003, after spending three years in the Phillies farm system, Chase played in his first major league game. In his third at-bat Utley set a precedent of things to come hitting a grand slam. Despite his offensive output, Phillies management decided to keep Placido Polanco as their starting major league second baseman and sent Utley back to the minors. In August of the same year Utley was recalled to the majors and Polanco moved to 3rd base allowing Utley to finish out the year playing second.
Still behind Polanco on the Phillies depth chart in 2004, Utley played in 94 games posting a .266 batting average with 13 homers and 57 RBIs and generating desire for Utley to start a full season from fans and media alike. In 2005 Utley finally became the Phillies 2nd baseman playing in 147 games, hitting .291 with 28 homeruns and 39 doubles.
Despite his talent, Utley had a hard road to becoming a major league starter, but he never stopped working. Utley tirelessly worked in practice, committed to studying opposing pitchers and dedicated himself to running out every groundball. The city of Philadelphia had been driven by symbols of hard work and was finally rewarded with a laboring and talented symbol in their new second baseman. Utley’s play inspired the city, reminding it’s blue-collar populace that hard work does pay-off.
In 2006 Utley had a break out season in which he hit .309 with 32 homers and over 100 RBIs and finished out the season on a 36 game hitting streak, tying Louis Castillo for the longest hitting streak by a second baseman. Utley’s increased offensive production didn’t change the way he played the game and he left every game with dirt on his uniform.
In the offseason Utley got married and signed a 7 year 85 million dollar contract with the Phillies. In late July of 2007 Utley broke four bones in his right wrist, but placated the Philadelphia faithful saying, “I’ll be back. Don’t worry, guys… It’s a break, but not that bad of a break.” Utley underwent surgery and returned one month later turning in a 3 for 5 performance with a homerun and an RBI double and earned a standing ovation from the CBP crowd. Utley also earned a Silver Slugger award finishing the regular season with a .332 batting average, 103 RBIS, 22 HRs and 43 doubles. Utley’s toughness and red-hot bat rewarded Philadelphians with their first playoff series in 14 years.
In 2008 Utley picked up right where he left off leading the Phillies potent offense with 177 hits and helping them capture their first World Series Championship in 20 years. Utley’s undying effort led Philadelphia to the pinnacle and he did it their way; tough.
In the offseason Utley needed hip surgery and was never able to return to form. Utley’s blue-collar effort never faded, even as his injuries mounted and his offensive production decreased. In an effort to rebuild, the Phillies dealt Utley to the Dodgers before the 2015 trade deadline. “It’s not so much the change of uniforms,” Utley said in a tearful goodbye, “it’s more about leaving the city that’s given so much to me in the 12 or 13 years that I’ve been here.”
Utley became a sparkplug off the bench for the Don Mattingly’s Dodgers. His intelligent hitting approach and hardnosed defense helped the Dodgers in late-game situations. So when it came to do or die time in the playoffs, Utley’s instinctual work ethic manifested in a hard slide that helped the Dodgers bring home a playoff win.