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Phillies fans cheered Chase Utley, and there’s nothing 'soft' about it

Phillies fans cheered Chase Utley, and there’s nothing 'soft' about it

As anyone still watching this Phillies season in mid-August knows, Chase Utley returned to Philadelphia this week for the first time since his trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In the first game of the series, Tuesday night, Utley was introduced to cheers and a standing ovation as his familiar music, Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, played over the PA system

And throughout the night, the fans kept cheering. They cheered after he hit a solo home run in the 5th inning -- even giving him a curtain call -- and again in the 7th when he hit a grand slam. Utley got another ovation Wednesday, when he went 0-for-5; he was cheered again during the final game of the series Thursday. 

These nice moments, which made national news, have had a predictable backlash. Some in town, especially on both local sports radio stations and on Twitter, aren’t too happy with the fans for continuing to cheer an opposing player, especially during a lopsided loss. And the word a lot of them are using is “soft.” 

This is ridiculous. It’s the sort of armchair tough guy nonsense way too present in sports discourse these days, that takes macho posturing to the logical extreme of near-nihilism. Like 95 percent of arguments that involve one adult referring to another as “soft,” it’s embarrassing buffoonery. "Must not cheer all-time great local athlete! Must HATE instead!"

If you believe that it was wrong to cheer Chase Utley this week in Philadelphia, let me ask you this: What is sports fandom for you? Why do you go to games, why do you watch on TV?  Does it bring you joy or entertainment? Or is being a fan just a never-ending battery of masculinity/"violation" tests, conducted at the behest of no one in particular? 

Suppose the fans at Citizen’s Bank Park this week had risen as one, booed Utley or even given him an indifferent or less-than-enthusiastic reception. What would that have accomplished? Do you think it would cement Philadelphia sports fans once and for all as tough, and principled, and therefore intimidate opposing teams who come through town? Or would it set off another round of national news stories about just how terrible Philly fans are? I think we all know it’s the latter. 

In fact, I’d say that if anything, what actually happened (warm cheers for Utley) vs. what didn’t (three days of boos and maybe worse) shows that maybe the reality of the Philadelphia fan base is better than its reputation. 

And not only that, but it’s not even the first time a former Phillie has been applauded for hitting a home run for the visiting team at Citizen’s Bank Park. Jim Thome was cheered in June 2010, when he homered against the Phillies while playing for the Minnesota Twins. It says a lot about Thome that when he returned to Minnesota as a Phillie in 2012 and homered at Target Field, the fans there cheered him, too. 

Indeed, the superstar athlete who formerly played in Philly coming through town with his new team is a familiar site to most local fans. There was Barkley with the Suns, Lindros with the Rangers, Iverson with the Nuggets, T.O. with the Cowboys, Dawkins with the Broncos and McNabb with the Redskins. But what all of those players have in common is that none of them won championships here and therefore departed town with at least some degree of disappointment. Those circumstances don’t apply to Utley, a key part in the Phillies’ long run of a success that included the 2008 championship. 

So why not cheer Utley? It’s not like he left on bad terms, forced his way out of town or exhibited any Jonathan Papelbon-like behavior. 

Sure, there were always a lot of strange mini-controversies involving Utley throughout his time with the Phillies. He was accused at various times of playing hurt, of not playing hurt, and of not being forthright with the team and/or media about injuries. Some reporters called him prickly and decried the lack of good quotes. Much like Derek Jeter in New York, Utley played for a very long time in one city without ever really establishing a distinct public persona or providing quippy sound bites. The one memorable thing he ever said, the “World F***ing Champions” proclamation during the 2008 championship rally, drew condemnations, although it also ended up on T-shirts. 

But that’s the key: They did win that world (f***ing) championship. Utley, probably for the rest of his life, will return to Philadelphia on each big anniversary of the 2008 title, and when he does he’ll never have to pay for his drinks. He’s a shoo-in to retire as a Phillie, for Wall of Fame induction and for retirement of No. 26, and while he’s got only an outside shot at the Hall of Fame, if Utley enters Cooperstown it’ll probably be with a Phillies cap on his plaque. 

Chase Utley was a beloved player in Philadelphia and a major part of some of the most important moments in franchise history. He provided a whole lot of lifelong memories to a pretty large generation of fans, even my young sons who weren’t born yet in ’08 but still wear Utley shirts. Therefore, he absolutely deserved every one of those ovations and curtain calls, and that moment was obviously worth the hurt feelings of those holding up meaningless codes and unwritten rules. Anyone who doesn’t see that, I have to question if they understand what sports is even about. 

Follow Stephen Silver on Twitter at @StephenSilver 

'The hope of Carson' and what Wentz meant to one boy battling cancer

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ESPN

'The hope of Carson' and what Wentz meant to one boy battling cancer

Being a sports fan can bring out the cynics in all of us. Writing about sports on the Internet often desensitizes many of us to what sports can actually mean to people. But there’s no denying the emotion this story about young Lukas Kusters made me feel.

It’s a story by ESPN about a young kid from Delaware, his passion for football, his love of the Philadelphia Eagles and Carson Wentz, his battle with cancer, and what his bond with a certain quarterback meant to both of them.

Lukas was known as “The Dutch Destroyer” because of his wildly impressive performance on the football field. He was diagnosed with cancer in April of 2016 at 8 years old and went on the fight of his life against it.

Lukas turned to his Eagles fandom and their young quarterback as a source of inspiration.

“We spent a lot of time talking about [Wentz] while we were in the hospital,” Lukas’ mother said. “And the idea of ‘the hope of Carson’ and what it meant for the Eagles was just another piece of inspiration for Lukas in his continued drive to get back on the field himself.”

Lukas received a special video message in his hospital bed from Wentz. It is impossible not to get emotional watching what it meant to Lukas.

The Make-a-Wish Foundation got involved and asked Lukas if there was anything he most wanted to do, and the youngster’s response was that he simply wanted to thank Carson.

Lukas got the opportunity to spend the day at the Eagles’ facility with Carson and he got to do just that, giving Wentz one of his Dutch Destroyer bracelets in the process.

Lukas lost his battle with cancer and was buried in his Wentz jersey. But if you’ve noticed Wentz’s wrist this season, you’ll see that Dutch Destroyer bracelet.

“It’s so much deeper than football,” Wentz said. “It’s so much more than just a game.”

Oh right, The Sixers: Toronto brings Philly to 0-3 with old-school clobbering

Oh right, The Sixers: Toronto brings Philly to 0-3 with old-school clobbering

Well, what a fun trip down memory lane that was. Just as they have seemingly spent much of the past four years doing, the Philadelphia 76ers traveled to Toronto last night on the second night of a back-to-back -- without Joel Embiid, natch -- and got minced. The Sixers got outpaced 36-19 in the first quarter and never recovered, eventually falling by a score of 128-94. 

It was another game where the things our rookies were good at, they were really good at, but the other stuff killed us. Ben Simmons ended with an impressive 18-10-8 -- even hitting a couple quasi-jumpers in the process -- but the way that the Raptors were able to shrink the floor against him and his ultra-limited range more or less strangled our half-court offense. The Sixers were -20 with him on the floor, and the cramped spacing partly led to a down night for our normally reliable shooters. (Robert Covington and J.J. Redick -- the former plagued by foul trouble -- couldn't even get their shots off, going a combined 1-3 from deep.) 

And Markelle Fultz's presence only exacerbated things, as he kept refusing to shoot from the perimeter, driving no matter how open he was. He made some nice plays and got to the line eight times, but his increasingly miserable FT form -- he shot the last one seemingly one-handed, with his other arm blocking his eyes -- shows why that's about all he's capable of at the moment. As suggested by Spike Eskin on a recent Rights to Ricky Sanchez pod, shutting him down until he can relearn how to shoot might be the move for our No. 1 overall pick at this point. He's not helping himself or the team playing like this at the moment. 

Of course, the biggest reason for the drubbing was the lack of Embiid. The team has no one to really hold down the middle without him at the moment -- Amir Johnson is our most reliable backup but he's something of a black hole on offense at the moment, and Jahlil Okafor (who got his first game action of the season) is still brutal when it comes to defensive decision-making. The team actually might look best at the moment sans Embiid with Simmons at the five, though that's not sustainable for long periods, especially when DeMar DeRozan is carving up our defense for 30 points on 8-12 (!!) shooting. 

Terrible throwback performance by the Sixers, and given that it's their third loss in a row to start the season, it may lead to a lot of understandable Same Old Sixers chatter. But don't forget how good that opening-night performance was against the Wizards, how much of the game against Boston we were leading for, and how tough a three-game stretch to start the season this was in general. I thought we'd go 0-3 and we went 0-3 -- next up is the Pistons on Monday, and in the couple weeks that follow, we play the Mavs, Hawks and Pacers. We wont' be winless for long -- though the sooner we can put one in the W column and avoid this team getting stuck in a peak-Process vortex, the better.