Phillies fans, if you’re wondering why Chase Utley announced his intention to retire while there was still more than two months to go in the season, well, throw your chest out and take a bow.
He did it because of you.
“One-hundred percent,” Utley said upon arriving at Citizens Bank Park with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday afternoon.
Utley spent 13 seasons with the Phillies, played in five postseasons, won a World Series and a big place in the hearts of fans for his excellent performance and all-out-all-the-time style of play.
He wanted the chance to be able to say goodbye to the fans.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a while now and I’ve been trying to figure out how I’m going to go out,” the 39-year-old second baseman said. “I thought it was important to let the Philadelphia Phillies fans know that this is going to be the last time that I’m going to have the chance to play in this ballpark. So yeah, this was a huge factor in the timing of the announcement.
“Whether I was going to continue to play another few years or not, this city was an experience that I’ll never forget. We had some great success here and the way this city supported this team over those years is pretty remarkable. I’ve said this a number of times over the years but fans in this city really elevated our game and made us focus a little bit more. It added a little bit of intensity and adrenaline. In my opinion, those are things that can make a team better.”
Utley, who was traded to the Dodgers in August 2015, is a part-time player with the Dodgers, but an important one, revered from the clubhouse to the front office for his leadership and character — just as he was in Philadelphia. He started at second base and batted eighth for the Dodgers on Monday night.
What should not be lost in the nostalgia of this three-game series is the fact that both the Dodgers and Phillies enter as first-place teams with thin leads in their divisions. The baseball is paramount. And who knows, if things work out maybe these two teams could meet in October and this won’t be Utley’s last time in Citizens Bank Park as a player.
“That would be a trip,” he said.
Utley will not be able to attend the Phillies’ alumni weekend celebration Aug. 3-5 because he will be playing for the Dodgers. The 2008 World Series champion Phillies will be honored that weekend.
“Winning the World Series in 2008 is probably the highlight of my career,” Utley said.
He mentioned that he keeps in touch with many of his former teammates, including Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard. Utley was the best second baseman in Phillies history, Rollins the best shortstop and Howard the best first baseman. Those 2008 Phillies had hot arms such as Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge and superb role players such as Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino.
But fans always had a special affection for Utley because, in addition to being a gifted player, he was a grinder.
“It obviously makes me feel good that they’ve been so supportive of me over the years,” he said. “It’s a blue-collar city. It’s a city that respects guys that play hard, guys that want to win. I feel like I did that when I was here. I still do that. I think the success that we had, the team that we had, really helped that. It wasn’t just me over those years. It was a number of guys. And we fed off the energy here in this park.
“It’s something that I’ll never forget. It gives me chills just thinking about it.”
Utley was traded as part of the Phillies’ rebuild. The team is on the rise now and it’s no secret that it covets Utley’s new Dodger teammate, Manny Machado, who will be a free agent in the offseason.
Utley was asked what he might tell a prominent free agent who was considering Philadelphia as a destination.
“If you want to play in front of great fans that want to win in a beautiful ballpark … as long as you can deal with the humidity,” Utley said.
That shouldn’t be a problem. Machado is from Miami.
And Chase Utley is from Long Beach, California.
But part of him will always be a Philadelphian.
His decision to consider the city and Phillies fans in his retirement announcement is testament to that.
“I can’t thank the fans enough for what they brought out in us,” Utley said. “A lot of us had long careers, had a lot of success, and I don't think we would have been as good without that type of support.”