There is much we don’t know about him.
Take, for instance, an incident from the fall of 2009. Chase Utley came off the field after a workout in Philly between games of the ’09 World Series—the Series in which he hit five home runs—and came upon a spread of food for players in the clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park. Over the years, Chase has gotten seriously into nutrition; he stocks up at Whole Foods when the team goes on the road. So when he saw the unhealthy junk the team was offering post-workout—a table full of hot dogs and chili—he wasn’t having it. This is not a fucking big-league spread!
Suddenly, the greatest second baseman in franchise history was slopping the chili all over the place, dumping it on the floor, even hitting the walls. His teammates quickly pitched in. The hot dogs became footballs—it was a regular animal house, with Chase leading the way. Because that’s not how things should be done in the big leagues, especially not during the World Series.
In his decade in Philadelphia, we’ve certainly never seen that side of Chase Utley. As a matter of fact, what he’s really like off the field is a bit of a mystery, because he doesn’t want us to see it. We know how he plays—in baseball parlance, like a guy with his hair on fire. And for a long time, that was all we needed. That was him. All the way to declaring the Phillies world fucking champions.
You remember. After the parade down Broad Street on that beautiful October day five years ago, the team gathered on a podium at the ballpark. Chase went to the microphone in his ski cap and—can you believe this? It rolled right out of his mouth: “World fucking champions.”
The crowd roared. What more did we need?
But something has shifted. Utley was hurt the past two springs; he didn’t play at all the first half of last year or early the previous season because of knee trouble. He didn’t say much about it—just boilerplate stuff, when he was forced to talk, about trying to get healthy. The team was largely silent about him, too, as if mere medical updates on Utley were none of our business.
Such guardedness was fine when Chase Utley was blazing his way to becoming one of the finest second basemen ever. But here he is in the last year of his contract, 34 years old, with his future and the aging team’s in doubt. And now there’s a question that, after all this time, is so simple it’s strange:
Who is this guy?
His teammates think the mystery is funny. Chase, they say, is actually pretty amusing. He’s the guy who occasionally gives shortstop Jimmy Rollins the finger from behind his glove at second base. Though he’s also the guy who, if a teammate doesn’t hustle out a ground ball, will be waiting at his usual position along the dugout railing to lash the offender with a devastating look. Serious business, baseball, and his teammates say he’s their unquestioned leader—although they shake their heads and laugh about that, too, over just how intensely dialed-in Chase is.
When he told his parents and teammates and friends a couple years ago that he was going to be a father, there was a collective … Chase? So hard-boiled and so … ruled by the routines of baseball. A guy who hung with Aaron Rowand and Jayson Werth and man-about-town Pat Burrell, big-time dudes. As Rollins thought, “How will he balance that with tenderness? We don’t see a tender side.”
He’s a guy so consumed by playing that when his wife, Jen, asked him if he was worried that his troubled knees were putting his career in jeopardy, he just looked at her silently. “I got a death glare—a murderous glare,” she says. “I don’t want to see that again.”
Maybe opening the window—getting a peek at who Chase Utley really is—isn’t such a good idea. But he agrees to have lunch with me in San Francisco, where he and Jen and 16-month-old Ben live in the off-season. So I head west.