Chase Utley sprinted Friday night from the Phillies dugout, stepped sideways across the chalked first-base line, and found his place at second base.
Utley, for one last time, took the field the same way he did for 13 years in Philadelphia. He wore his old No. 26 jersey and the Citizens Bank Park speakers blared “Kashmir,” a song that might be more synonymous in Philadelphia with Utley than Jimmy Page or Robert Plant. Four years after being traded across the country, Utley returned to retire in South Philly.
“I miss winning with a Phillies jersey on,” Utley said.
The Phillies honored Utley with a retirement ceremony before Friday night’s series opener with Miami. The response was a sold-out crowd and a series of roaring reactions.
The fans erupted when a highlight package flashed Utley’s throw home in the 2008 World Series. They cheered even louder when Phanvision showed a bleeped-out version of Utley’s speech after the World Series parade. They supplied an extended standing ovation as Utley stepped from the dugout in a black suit to deliver his retirement speech. And they rocked when “Kashmir” hit and Utley was standing near second. Utley waved to the crowd and saluted.
Utley, revered more for his play than his words, kept his retirement speech tight. He thanked the late David Montgomery for showing him how to treat people with respect no matter who they were. He thanked Charlie Manuel for instilling confidence in him. He thanked the Philadelphia fans for motivating him and being straight-forward.
“Overall, just thank you for being the best fans in baseball,” Utley said.
Utley’s podium on Friday night was just a few feet from where he stood on that October afternoon in 2008, two days after the Phillies brought the city its first championship in 25 years. The three words Utley opened his speech with that day have followed him ever since, helping boom his status as one of the most popular athletes in the Philadelphia history. The Phillies even modeled a bobblehead after Utley’s “World Bleeping Champions” speech and handed it out to every fan on Friday night.
“Yeah it has taken on a life of its own,” Utley said of that 2008 speech. “I actually have not seen the bobblehead. I've seen pictures of it. But yeah that day, I think we all know how special that day was for not only myself but most of you in this room being part of that. So much excitement, so much adrenaline and just what we had all worked for had finally came true, to take that trip down Broad Street with millions of people supporting you, it's hard to describe it. But there was really no better feeling.”
Utley, whose playing career ended last October with the Dodgers, is living in Southern California and working both in a front-office role with the Dodgers and as a TV analyst for some of their broadcasts.
Retirement, Utley said, has gone the way he anticipated it would. He misses the routine that baseball brought, but not enough to continue to it do. Utley is home with his wife, Jen, and two young sons, Ben and Max. Utley is playing golf and coaching youth baseball. Retirement has treated him well.
“One thing I can’t figure out yet — maybe somebody can help me out — they won’t listen to me when I try to give them baseball advice,” Utley said. “They listen to the other coaches. But for some reason they won’t listen to me.”
Utley ended his speech by talking to his sons and reminding them of the highlight videos they watched of their dad on Phanavision. Perhaps that, Utley hoped, would make them willing to listen to his pointers. A few minutes later, his sons watched Utley run to second base. Once more, the crowd became unglued.
Max and Ben Utley are too young to remember their dad playing in South Philadelphia. But perhaps the reaction they heard for him on Friday night will be enough to give him their ear at baseball practice.