The march began, as it so often has, down Broad Street.
They walked hand in hand, taking their time on a Wednesday afternoon — their bosses might not exactly buy the couldn’t-make-it-in excuse, but who wouldn’t, you know, understand? They carried children. They bumped up against equally buzzy pregaming partners. And they wore the same name stitched across their backs, a name belonging — technically and contractually, if certainly not spiritually — to the other team.
On Wednesday afternoon, Chase Utley played what will almost certainly be his last professional baseball game in Philadelphia. In his 16th and, since he announced his impending end-of-year retirement earlier this month, final major league season, the second baseman’s highlights are increasingly in the rearview mirror. The six-time All-Star is now literally replacement-level: His 2018 campaign with the Dodgers, his home of the last three years, has, up to now, been worth exactly 0.0 wins above replacement.
But around Citizens Bank Park, neither his meager slash line nor the fact that he would take the field wearing Dodger blue seemed to matter much at all. In the line for the metal detectors alone, there were a dozen-odd variants of Utley swag: People wore red pinstripes and shirseys and cream-colored throwbacks and at least one screen-printed custom job of Phillies-era Chase — just Chase, in this neck of the woods — triumphantly diving for a ball, worn by a woman tugging her son down the concourse.
The top recommended Google result for Chase Utley is “chase utley age.”
You might consider these inquiries from an array of different vantage points. Or perhaps just two. From the Philadelphia sprawl: Our blessed silver fox, how gracious his service, long may he rule the infield. From the greater New York diaspora: “Chase Utley has been human garbage since the day he was born.” When it comes to Utley, there are not a lot of mild opinions. (He’s 39.)
As he stretched before Wednesday’s game near third base, a crowd, 10 people deep, lined up along the left-field line, reverently watching as no. 26 leaned into his hamstrings. As if to send a message to the cosmos, or at least the out-of-towners prone to cruder renderings of Philly sportsdom, Utley’s last game arrived on the Phillies’ July 25 “Christmas in July” promotion, meaning the stadium was full of Santa hats, Christmas jingles, and at least one actual Santa, who clambered aboard the Phanatic’s go-kart. There was neither booing nor battery-hurling. Fans held signs: We ❤ #26! Thank U 4 Ur Gifts. The number 26 inside a giant heart. Chase Forever.
Utley was drafted by the Phillies in 2000; by 2001, he had made it to the All-Star Futures Game. He made his big league debut two years later and proceeded to go on an unholy five-season tear beginning in 2005, over which he averaged 7.9 WAR — including a blistering 9.0-WAR 2008, the year the Phils picked up their second World Series victory and the Philadelphia region’s first sporting championship in a quarter of a century. He swore on live TV. He alienated and — better yet, in the minds of many a Philadelphia partisan — enraged opponents. The popularity of the name “Chase” for babies in Pennsylvania surged.
Utley told reporters that he had timed his retirement announcement for the sake of Phillies fans: With the last regular-season meeting with the Dodgers looming, he wanted fans to know that it would be goodbye. The team in turn hailed him as something of a conquering hero, playing his customary “Kashmir” as he walked up to the plate and putting him in all his Little League splendor up on the Jumbotron.
On Wednesday, the Phillies won, 7–3, taking the series for Philadelphia and serving, perhaps, as something of a passing of the baton: Utley — who went 0-for-3 in his last game at Citizens Bank but was serenaded with a standing ovation at the start of each at-bat — stepping down as the Phils’ new, young, first-in-the–NL East guard propelled their team to victory. Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery both had home runs, and Carlos Santana tripled twice; earlier in the series, Maikel Franco homered twice.
As the current Phillies jogged back into the dugout at the game’s end, Utley stepped out to the infield, waving his cap one last time to a roaring crowd. “One thing I’m happy about is that I got to thank them in person,” he told reporters afterward. “I hope they understand how important they are to me.”