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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Utley still ‘The Man’

Posted by Eric Fisher On August 17

Fisher column logo2It didn’t take Chase Utley very long to remind everyone why Harry Kalas referred to him as “The Man.”

In his first game back at Citizens Bank Park, nearly a full year after being traded to the Dodgers, Utley slammed two home runs to help the Dodgers demolish the Phillies, 15-5. Utley hit a solo home run off starter Vince Velasquez in the fifth inning, and then put the cherry on the sundae with a grand slam during the Dodgers’ 8-run seventh inning.

Phillies fans, of course, did not need a reminder of Utley’s greatness.

They rose to their feet as Utley was introduced by public address announcer Dan Baker as the leadoff batter in the top of the first inning, with the familiar sound of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” providing the background music to the thunderous ovation.

After an initial tip of the cap, or helmet, to the cheering fans and players, Utley motioned for catcher Cameron Rupp and home-plate umpire Ron Kulpa to get behind the plate so the game could begin. When the intensity of the rousing ovation didn’t wane, Kulpa cleaned off home plate – something he had done a minute earlier – allowing the fans to continue to salute Utley, who responded with a wave, a touch of his hand to his heart and a thumbs-up.

“It’s completely overwhelming,” Utley said after the game. “The standing ovation my first at-bat is something I’ll never forget. It was truly special.”

Utley’s humility is one reason Phillies fans love him. Despite being a star during his 13 seasons in Philadelphia, Utley was never comfortable in the spotlight. That was evident again Tuesday during his pre-game news conference and during the fans’ initial ovation as he motioned for Rupp and Kulpa to get into position.

The term “initial ovation” in the preceding sentence is necessary because the 1½ -minute pregame ovation (video) wasn’t the last time the fans would pay tribute to Utley. When he hit a solo homer off Phillies starter Vince Velasquez in the fifth inning, the fans brought him back out of the dugout for a curtain call, an unheard of honor for a visiting player.

When Utley ripped a line drive over the right-field wall for a grand slam in the seventh inning, the fans applauded until Utley emerged from the dugout for a second curtain call.

Utley’s home runs provided another reason why Phillies fans revered him. Yes, the home runs were a reminder of his excellence, but Utley’s demeanor was a reminder of how he conducts himself on the field. Utley didn’t showboat after hitting his home runs. He put his head down and raced around the bases.

He also ran to first base after drawing a walk at the start of the seventh inning. His grand slam will be what is remembered from Tuesday’s seventh inning, but Utley’s walk served as the catalyst for the 8-run seventh inning.

There was some symmetry to Utley’s grand slam Tuesday. His first hit as a Phillie, on April 24, 2003, was a grand slam. He raced around the bases on that day, just as he did Tuesday night. And the fans brought him out of the dugout for a curtain call, just as they did Tuesday night.

Phillies fans’ love affair with Utley has as much to do with the way he played the game as his accomplishments. His 142 home runs, 916 RBI and the World Series title he helped bring to Philadelphia are important parts of the package, but so are his hustle, determination and humility.

“There are so many times I’d meet a father with his son, or even a mother, who would praise the way I played and would tell me they want their son to play that way,” Utley said. “To me, that’s a true compliment.”

Phillies fans never had an opportunity to show their appreciation for Utley with a public farewell when he was traded. Therefore, Tuesday night was the opportunity to shower Utley with their love.

Love may seem too strong a word for a tribute to an athlete, but nobody at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday would dispute that love was in the air.

Chase Utley gave his heart and soul to the Phillies and their fans.

In his first night back at Citizens Bank Park, Phillies fans let Utley know that he would always have a place in their hearts as well.

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