Chase Cameron Utley was born on December 17, 1978 in Pasadena, California. (Click here for today's sports birthdays.) A sister, Taylor Ann, arrived a few years later. Chase’s paretnts knew they had a strong-minded boy on their hands almost immediately. Even as a toddler, Chase always wanted to do things his own way. David, a lawyer who represented longshoremen, was reminded of his son every time he sat down with one of his clients.
Chase’s two passions as a kid were baseball and skateboarding. His father was thrilled by the first and mortified by the second. All a skateboard meant to him was broken bones and trips to the doctor’s office. When Chase asked for his own board, David refused. The youngster then went to his mom, who spotted him the money.
David, however, was nothing but supportive when it came to baseball. Chase became instantly hooked on the sport when he picked up a whiffle ball after his fourth birthday. Not particularly big or fast, his instincts and feel for the game were amazing. So was his desire to improve. David often drove Chase to local batting cage near their home in Long Beach, leaving him on his own with a $20 bill. Hours later he would return to find his son behind the counter selling hot dogs in exchange for extra tokens.
Chase also benefited from excellent coaching. In youth baseball, he learned from dedicated fathers around the neighborhood, including Jeff Burroughs, the 1974 American League MVP. After retiring, the former big leaguer helped develop an impressive Little League program in Southern California. Chase, a power-hitting shortstop, was one of his prized pupils.
By the time he entered of Long Beach Polytechnic High School in the fall of 1993, Chase was thinking about a career in the majors. His favorite player was Jim Thome, the slugger for the Cleveland Indians. Every morning during the spring and summer, he would wake up to ESPN’s SportsCenter to check on highlights from the previous day’s game.
Like Thome, Chase was a hard-nosed player who got the most out of his talent. Sometimes, however, he was his own worst enemy. Ultra-intense, Chase had trouble forgetting about a missed RBI opportunity at the plate or an error in the field. He would often compound a mistake by making another.
Still, the Jackrabbits of Long Beach Poly were happy to have him. Chase had established himself as a star heading into his junior season, but he had yet to reach his full potential. As he grew taller and his body filled out, his power increased. Taking a cue from Thome, Chase opened his stance so he could see the ball better and drive it to all fields.
Chase put it all together during his senior campaign, batting .525 with 12 home runs and 48 RBIs. He was named an All-American by Collegiate Baseball, Baseball America, the American Baseball Coaches Association and the National High School Baseball Coaches Association.
Scouts were in the stands at every game, including Matt Lundin of the Phillies and Mike Arbuckle, now Philadelphia’s Assistant GM. But it was the Los Angeles Dodgers who showed the most interest, taking Chase in the second round of the 1997 draft. The teenager faced the most difficult decision of his life. A scholarship from UCLA was also on the table. (Oklahoma, Long Beach St., Cal St. Fullerton, UC Santa Barbara, Nevada, and Loyola Marymount has also recruited him.) In the end, he chose college ball, feeling a few more years of seasoning would do him good.
ON THE RISE
Chase loved UCLA—maybe too much. With an eye on the big leagues, baseball was his unofficial major. He was in fine company on the Bruins. Among his teammates was Garrett Atkins, who would go on to star for the Colorado Rockies.
Chase enjoyed a sensational freshman season, smashing 15 homers to break Bob Hamelin’s first-year record of 13. Coach Gary Adams hit him everywhere from second to eighth in the lineup. Chase saw most of his playing time at short, but was also used as a DH. His campaign ended on a high note with an 11-game hitting streak.
But Chase’s standout performance on the field came at the expense of his schoolwork. Poor grades put him in serious academic risk, and he spent much of his spring semester trying to rescue them. Adams took a hard line with Chase. The teenager responded positively, working harder than ever in the classroom.
Chase increased focus on academics helped bolster his confidence on the diamond. Heading into his sophomore season in the spring of 1999, he was a new man, not to mention a Dean’s List student. Chase was more vocal in the locker room and led by example in practice. When Adams told Chase that he would have to switch to second base to make room for senior co-captain Jack Santora at shortstop, he didn’t hesitate in learning his new position. In fact, Chase adjusted like he had played there his whole life. His error total dropped from 24 as a shortstop to just 13 as a second baseman.
Chase also ramped it up at the plate. His campaign began with a pair of seven-game hitting streaks. In mid-April he was named the GTE Student Athlete of the Week after batting .500 with two homers and nine RBIs. Chase finished the regular season with another hitting streak, this one spanning nine games.
UCLA rode Chase’s hot bat into the College World Series, advancing to the Wichita Regional. In what he calls one of the highlights of his career, Chase ripped opposing pitching, posting a .412 batting average with two doubles and two home runs.
After a summer honing his game in the Cape Cod League, Chase entered his third season at UCLA with thoughts of taking the next step in his baseball career. Pro scouts were already sold on him. So was Adams, who appointed the junior one of the team’s co-captains. Chase enjoyed another monster year, batting .382 with 22 homers and 69 RBIs in 64 games. Selected a First Team All-American by The Sporting News, he starred once again in the postseason and was named Outstanding Player of the CWS Oklahoma City Regional.
Chase’s stock soared in the draft. The Phillies, picking 15th overall, grabbed him in the first round, and inked him to a $1.78-million signing bonus. Chase made his pro debut a short time later with Class-A Batavia Muckdogs of the New York-Penn League, where he hit safely in 29 of 40 games and was chosen as Philadelphia’s Minor League Player of the Month in August.
The Phillies rewarded him with an invite to spring training with the big club in 2001. He then joined the Clearwater Threshers of the Florida State League. Though playing in ballparks normally friendly to pitchers, Chase tore up the FSL and earned a spot in the All-Star Futures Game, at SAFECO Field in Seattle. A big day at the plate—2-for-3, with a home run, two RBIs and a stolen base—further confirmed his status as one of Philadelphia’s top prospects.
The 2002 campaign saw Chase successfully make the leap to Triple-A Scranton, even as the Phillies toyed with the idea of turning him into a third baseman. With Scott Rolen unhappy and soon to become a free agent, the club wondered whether Chase could fill his shoes. He demonstrated the power needed at the hot corner by leading the Barons with 17 homers and setting a team record with 39 doubles. A slight adjustment in his stance helped him achieve these numbers, as Chase moved off the plate a bit to extend his arms and turn on inside pitches easier.
Chase had nothing left to prove in the minors, but the Phillies weren’t set on his position yet. Before the 2003 season, they signed third baseman David Bell, and moved Chase back to second. He started the campaign with the big club, serving as a utility infielder. Chase hated not playing, but there was an upside. Philly had also signed Jim Thome in the offseason, so Chase got to dress in the same locker room and take the field with his childhood hero.
The thrill didn’t last long. In early April, the Phillies optioned Chase back to Scranton to get him regular at-bats. He performed well enough, though he had no idea when he would return to the big club. After an 0-fer, Chase was summoned off the team bus. Afraid he might get chewed out, instead he was told of his promotion back to Philadelphia. Placido Polanco had been placed on the DL. Chase would start at second while he recovered.
Chase wasted no time making his presence felt. In his first at-bat as an everyday player, he blasted a grand slam against the Colorado Rockies. Of course, Philly fans weren’t yet convinced of his stardom. When Chase struck out in his next plate appearance, he heard a full chorus of boos.
Chase spent the rest of the year yo-yoing between Philadelphia and Scranton. His final numbers were modest—just a .239 batting average with two homers and 21 RBIs—but his work ethic and gritty attitude impressed many on the Philly coaching staff.
Still, Chase didn’t earn a regular job with the Phils in 2004. Again Polanco was the starter at second, so Chase began the season in Triple A. He made the most of his opportunities whenever they arose. When Polanco landed on the DL in May, Chase was called up and fashioned an 11-game hitting streak. But Philadelphia optioned him back to Scranton in June.
Undaunted, Chase slammed two dingers in his first game back in the minors. By July, the Phillies had no choice but to promote him for good. Chase played mostly at second, but also logged time at first. He was most dangerous coming off the bench as a pinch-hitter. In 31 at-bats, he picked up 11 hits, including two doubles and three homers.
Heading into the 2005 campaign, Chase left nothing to chance. He won the starting job at second out of spring training, offering new Philly skipper Charlie Manuel another lefty bat that he could plug into any spot in the lineup. With Jimmy Rollins leading off and Thome, Bob Abreu and Pat Burrell hitting in the middle of the order, the Phillies figured to have no problem scoring runs. This took pressure off Chase to try to do too much.
Pitching, on the other hand, was an uncertainty for Philadelphia. Jon Leiber entered the year as the staff ace, backed up by unproven talent like Brett Myers and Vicente Padilla. The bullpen, anchored by closer Billy Wagner, would likely see a lot of work.
The season progressed as many predicted. Philly often put up crooked numbers on the scoreboard, but just as often surrendered big innings and coughed up leads. The team appeared to suffer a devastating loss when Thome went down with an elbow injury. But rookie Ryan Howard picked up the slack, cracking 22 homers in just over 300 at-bats.
Chase also gave the Philly faithful plenty to cheer about. Adjusting to the rigors of playing everyday in the majors, he jump-started his year with one at-bat in early June. With the Phillies facing the San Francisco Giants and their lefty Kirk Rueter, Manuel sat Chase in favor of Polanco. When LaTroy Hawkins entered the contest, Chase was sent in as a pinch-hitter in the eighth. With the score tied, the bases loaded and two outs, he launched a game-winning granny.
Chase sizzled the rest of the way, finishing the campaign at .291 with 39 doubles, six triples, 28 homers and 105 RBIs. Though the Phillies failed to make the playoffs, he even garnered some MVP votes.
Chase also caught the attention of USA Baseball officials. With the inaugural World Baseball Classic slated for March of 2006, he was selected for the American squad. Though the U.S. didn’t reach the final, Chase savored the experience. Playing with the likes of Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones and Roger Clemens provided a new perspective on what it takes to win.
That was clear as the ’06 season opened. With Thome gone to the Chicago White Sox in a trade for Aaron Rowand, the Philadelphia clubhouse was a different place. Chase sensed the team would respond to him as a leader, and was eager to show he could fill the role.
Chase got off to a
good start. His average hovered near .300, and his power numbers ranked
at the top for NL second basemen. But Chase was about to raise his game to superstar level. In late June, he launched a 35-game hitting streak that was the talk of baseball. Chase batted over .400 during the streak and collected one clutch hit after another. He finished the year with a .309 average, 203 hits, 32 home runs, 102 RBIs and an NL-high 131 runs. Chase became the first second baseman in team history with back-to-back 100 RBI seasons. He was also voted into the starting lineup at the All-Star Game.
Chase began the 2007 season with a new contract (seven years for $86 million) and a new bride (Jenn). It was a dark day for the fans who called themselves Chase’s Chicks. He began the season where he left off in '06, putting together a torrid start and then becoming the first Phillie to be voted into the starting lineup of two straight All-Star Games. He and Rollins were perhpas the best double-play combo in baseball.
A magical season was nearly ruined when John Lannan of the Nationals broke Chase’s right hand. Chase was on the shelf until the end of Augiust, but returned to the lineup in time to spearhead an historic comeback that saw the Phillies overtake the Mets in September and win the NL East. He hit .322 for the season with 22 homers and 102 RBIs. Chase easily could have been selected as the MVP. Instead, the award went to his teammate Rollins. In the Division Series, the red-hot Phillies ran into an even hotter team and were swept by the Colorado Rockies.
The Phillies began 2008 on a roll, thanks largely to Chase’s hot hitting. At one point, he slugged seven homers in seven games. He finished with 11 in April and then launched eight more in May to set a new team record for homers before June. On June 1, Chase belted #20. Though he slumped toward the end of the month, his numbers still was good enough to earn his third straight All-Star start.
The Phillies stayed within striking distance of the Mets all year and passed them again during the September stretch run. Chase was a big part of the team’s second straight NL East championship. He led Philly with 177 hits, hit 33 homers, scoed 113 times and knocked in 104 runs.
The Phillies wiped out the Brewers in the NLDS, beating Milwaukee in five games. Next they faced the Dodgers in the NLCS. In Game 1, Chase erased a 2–0 deficit with a homer off Derek Lowe, and the Phillies went on to win 3–2. Philadelphia took three of the next four against Los Angeles to capture its first pennant since 1993.
Game 1 of the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays got off to a fast start for the Phillies, thanks to Chase. In the top of first inning, he socked a two-run homer off Scott Kazmir. The lead held up, and the Phillies took the opener 3–2.
After a loss in Game 2, the Phils returned home and closed out the Rays in three straight. Chase contributed in Game 3 with a two-run homer off of Matt Garza. Surprisingly, that was his last hit of the series. Just as surprisingly, Philadelphia didn't need him. The Phillies won their first World Series since 1983 with their best hitter batting just .167.
Chase had another productive season in 2009 and was a key part of Philadelphia's drive to a third straight division title and second consecutive World Series appearance. His power numbers dipped ever so slightly, but he still managed 31 homers, 93 RBIs and a .282 average. Once again, he was elected to start at second base for the NL All-Stars.
The Phillies had the NL East to themselves, as the Mets bottomed out, the Braves had no hitting, and the Marlins couldn't parlay their good pitching into more than 87 wins. The Phils won 93—the second-best total in the league. They faced the Rockies in the Division Series and gained revenge for the 2007 sweep.
After splitting the first two contests at home, the Phillies closed out the Rockies with a pair of victories in Denver. Colorado came close to tying the series, taking a 4–2 lead into the ninth in Game 4. But Chase helped turn the tables. He worked Huston Street for a two-out walk with Victorino at first base. Howard then doubled them both home to tie the game. Werth plated the game-winner with a bloop single. Chase batted .429 with a homer in the four-game series.
In the NCLS, the Dodgers had better luck with Chase, holding him to a .211 average. But Los Angeles could not stop the entire team. Philadelphia scored blowouts in Game 3 and Game 5 and won the series easily.
The Phillies advanced to the World Series, where they encountered a more formidable opponent than the year before, the Yankees. Chase got the team off to a roaring start with a pair of solo homers in the Bronx to back Cliff Lee in a 6–1 victory. Both four-baggers came off southpaw CC Sabathia. The last time a left-handed hitter hit two World Series homers in the same game off a fellow lefty was Babe Ruth, in 1928.
New York evened the series with a 3–1 win in Game 2. The Phillies squandered a golden opportunity against Mariano Rivera in the eighth inning when Chase rapped into a double play. The call at first was a close one—replays showed that Chase had probably beaten the throw.
The loss would prove costly, as the Yankees went into Citizens Bank Ballpark and trounced the Phiilies 8–5 in Game 3. Things went from bad to worse in Game 4, as Brad Lidge failed to hold New York in the ninth inning after a gallant comeback fueled by Chase's seventh-inning home run. With the score knotted 4–4 and two out, Lidge allowed Johnny Damon to reach base. Damon stole second and third on one play, with the infield overshifted to defend Mark Teixeira. Hits by Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada put the game out of reach, 7–4.
With their backs against the wall, the Phillies responded with an 8–6 win in Game 5. Chase hit two more home runs, giving him five for the series. He joined Reggie Jackson as the only players to reach this plateau in the Fall Classic. Back in New York, the Yankees got a monster game from Hideki Matsui in Game 6 and won easily, 7–3. Chase finished his postseason with six homers and 10 RBIs; his slugging average in the World Series was 1.048.
Now one of the main men in Philly, Chase is eager to transform the team into a perennial champion. In just a few years, he has become one of the most feared and admired hitters in baseball. Chase is tough and intimidating at the plate, on the bases and in the field. And as he proved in the 2009 postseason, he has that special talent for carrying a club when his teammates need it most. No one likes to watch him streak more than they do—and don't be surprised if Chase takes another run at Joltin' Joe along the way.
CHASE THE PLAYER
Chase is a good hitter partly because his stroke is so simple and his balance so good. He stays compact at the plate, and can drive the ball to all fields. Unlike many of today's home run hitters, Chase actually cuts off his swing at its end. His power comes through his ability to whip the bat through the strike zone.
Chase likes to work the count. He rarely chases balls in the dirt or above his shoulders. Unafraid to hit with two strikes, Chases sometimes gets caught looking because he always tries to square each pitch.
Chase is a creature of habit. Some might call him superstitious. Whether its before the game or in the batter's box, Chase likes routines. They keep him in a comfort zone.
Chase may never win a Gold Glove, but he has improved every season as a fielder. As a former shortstop, he has decent range, and his hands are good. He worked a lot with Larry Bowa early in his career, which continues to pay dividends.
Chase is well-liked and respected by his teammates. In fact, the camaraderie of the clubhouse and dugout is one of the things he loves about baseball. Chase's intensity is already a trademark, with the Phillies and their fans. He practices hard, plays hard and wants to win above all else.
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