I got into journalism because I desperately wanted to be a sportswriter. I wanted to cover a Major League Baseball team. To tell the fans what happened and who the players were and how the game changed.
I never fulfilled that dream of being a best writer. I did however, get to cover a handful of games and I cherish those memories.
In 2004, Towanda’s Nate Bump was pitching for the Florida Marlins while I worked for his hometown paper. Our sports editor went down to do a profile on him. I went with him on my off day and wrote a profile of former Red Barons manager Marc Bombard. I was able to interview pitching coach Rich Dubee, All Star shortstop Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, in the midst of his first full season.
Rollins was ebullient talking about his former manager, sharing stories. Chase Utley wasn’t like Rollins. He already had the image of a stoic. He was far from as press-friendly as Rollins, Jack McKeon or Dontrelle Willis had been. But he was far more professional than the likes of Josh Beckett.
Rollins was at his locker when we were talking and I asked him if there was anyone else I should talk to. He said Chase was close to Bombard. Another media member pointed out that Utley was in an off-limits area.
Rollins looked over to Utley and asked him if I could talk to him about Bombard. Utley nodded and pointed to a chair.
Utley never asked me who I was writing for or what my goal was, simply “What do you need to know?”
I asked the normal questions a cub reporter would ask in a profile and Utley was courteous. He offered normal comments. They would work in a story, but weren’t incredibly insightful. He wasn’t going to share intimate details with a stranger. When I was done, he shook my hand and I went on to the next source.
Later on, I was on the field, watching batting practice, the stadium fill up and feeling like a big league writer. Utley was walking by when he stopped. He asked me if I was the guy writing about Bombard. I was, I said. Write about his uniform, Utley said. I was puzzled. “What?” It gets dirty. Coaches uniforms don’t get dirty, he said. But Bombard’s uniform would get dirty.
Utley respected that. The grit.
Utley will announce his retirement today, having won a World Series ring, been a six-time All Star and likely become one of the most beloved players in Phillies history.
His uniform was often dirty.