“Do you wake up on your own
And wonder where you are?
You live with all your faults”
My first memories of Chase Utley are with the Scranton/Wilkes Barre Red Barons. The Red Barons were my local Triple-A affiliate and there was quite the crew there for awhile — in addition to Chase, there was also Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell and Shane Victorino. Utley was only in Scranton for a year, and even though I’m not a Phillies fan, I have always continued to follow him and the others throughout their careers.
I have never been impressed with Victorino, so I was non-plussed when he signed with the Dodgers. When Rollins came to the left coast, I was intrigued. It’s really hard not to like a guy who has such a free and easy smile. So of course, when he came over, the rumors started that Utley might be soon to follow at the trade deadline, with the much maligned Phillies not anywhere near contention.
While it didn’t happen at the non-waiver deadline, 36-year-old Utley was ultimately picked up on waivers, and eventually traded to LA on August 20, 2015 for utility player Darnell Sweeney and pitcher John Richy. At the time, second baseman Howie Kendrick was on the 15-day DL with a hamstring injury. Utley’s versatility also would make him available to rest Justin Turner at third base and Adrian Gonzalez at first if need be, and free up Enrique Hernandez to spell Joc Pederson in center field.
Utley grew up in Long Beach, went to UCLA, and has always played well at Dodger Stadium. He had full no-trade protection, but expressed an interest to play in LA. Any article ever written about him talks about his grit and work ethic and how he plays the game the right way. (That’s really one phrase I wish I heard less of). Ok, cool, lots of young talent on the Dodgers, they can only learn from a grizzly vet and experiment depth in the playoffs will be great. Then, in Game 2 of the NLDS against the Mets, came The Slide.
The Slide. The Slide Heard Round the World. After Utley took out Ruben Tejada, broke his leg, and the Mets went on to beat the Dodgers in five games, I had had it with Chase Utley. He ruined that series, I thought. Gave the Mets the extra ammo to beat the Dodgers. Clayton Kershaw is not going to the World Series again because of Utley’s dirty play.
One of the first moves the Dodgers front office made in the offseason was the resigning of Utley to a one-year, $7 million contract. I groaned. Why? Hadn’t he done the Dodgers enough harm already?
Flash forward to the start of the current season. Kendrick starts the year on the disabled list. Also, the Dodgers are unsure as to whom the primary lead off batter would be. Chase Utley is there as the veteran to step in and take care of both positions. And he has done both with much aplomb — from dazzling defensive plays to driving in the go ahead run in the 9th inning in that awesome comeback win against Colorado. He’s showing such heart and hustle that he’s making me use phrases like “heart and hustle.” He’s a constant on a team that has gone through so many injuries and lately has been lacking steady offense. He’s leading the team in non-pitching WAR and batting average.
Even Kershaw offered up a few kind words for Utley after the come-from-behind victory over the Rockies.
Although the memory of that slide will always bring a grimace to my face, I guess I can safely say Utley has made a case for me to love that he’s on this team, and I can’t wait for him to redeem himself in this year’s playoffs.
“Yeah, I’m gonna let it slide”